FEBRUARY 1818–FEBRUARY 20, 1895
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. He was an abolitionist, social reformer, lecturer, and journalist. In his early teens, he secretly taught himself and other slaves to read. This was illegal, and Douglass often faced harsh physical punishment for his rebellious nature. He made a courageous escape to freedom in New York in 1838.
Though Douglass is best remembered as an anti-slavery activist, his work spanned many movements, including women’s rights. In 1848, Douglass was the only African American to attend the famed Seneca Falls Convention, which many mark as a major turning point for the women’s suffrage movement in America. He also publicly supported women’s rights in his newspaper, the North Star. In 1866 he cofounded the American Equal Rights Association with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others. Though he later publicly disagreed with Anthony and Stanton over their lack of support for the 15th Amendment, Douglass continued to work as a women’s rights activist until his death.
Douglass’ activism was daring for his time. Still a fugitive slave when he escaped to New York, he could have been caught, arrested, and returned to slavery at any point while it was still legal in Maryland.
After the Civil War, being a Black activist remained dangerous— racism did not end when slavery did. Despite this, he worked as an activist for nearly six decades. Douglass died in 1895 at age 77.
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