Becoming Frederick Douglass

This Maryland Public Television film clip describes how Frederick Douglass gained popularity as an effective orator, and the impact of Douglass publishing his first autobiography.

– ♪ I am an abolitionist, I glory in the name ♪ ♪ Though now by slavery’s minions hissed ♪ ♪ And covered o’er with shame ♪ ♪ It is a spell of light and power ♪

– New Bedford had a lot of things going for it. For one, there was a Black community there, and Douglass became exposed to the abolitionist movement that was really hot in Massachusetts, led by William Lloyd Garrison. ♪ A nobler strife the world ne’er saw ♪ ♪ The enslaved to disenthrall ♪

– William Lloyd Garrison was one of the most prominent abolitionists in the country, the editor of The Liberator, a weekly newspaper, which was fervently anti-slavery and for the rights of African Americans.

– [Narrator] I love this paper, and its editor. He was never loud and noisy, but calm and serene as a summer sky, and as pure. And his paper took a place in my heart second only to the Bible.

– Garrison was fighting for justice, and he was fighting for equality, and Frederick knew what injustice felt like. He knew what inequality felt like. That’s when Frederick really began to speak out about his enslavement.

– In the 19th century, oratory was a huge deal. Going to an oration, going to a debate, was the equivalent of going to the movies.

– For the next several years, Douglass traveled throughout the North, and what’s now the upper Midwest, speaking out against slavery. Douglass, in a sense, was so eloquent and elegant as a speaker that some whites started to accuse him of being a fraud.

– [Narrator] People doubt that I had ever been a slave. They said I did not talk like a slave, look like a slave, nor act like a slave. Thus, I was in a pretty fair way to be denounced as an imposter.

– And so in order to prove he was who he claimed to be, he wrote “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”

– The sort of concluding piece of the title is “Written by Himself.” Those words were really powerful, and challenging to a lot of what white Americans thought was possible.

– It was published in 1845. It sold 4,500 copies in three months. You know, he was a star, and now he had another problem.

– Once he publishes the narrative, he’s probably the most famous Black person in the world at that point, but he, in the narrative, has outed himself as a fugitive.


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