Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in February 1818. Frederick’s life was difficult as he barely knew his mother. She lived on a different plantation and died when he was an adolescent. Frederick also did no who his father was and later discovered the identity of his father.
Frederick at a young age was forbidden to attend school but understood the connection between knowledge and freedom. Being able to read will help secure freedom for himself and ultimately his people. When he was at the age of 12, he read a book called The Columbian Orator. It was a collection of revolutionary speeches, debates, and writings on natural human rights.
When Frederick was 15 years of age, he was sent to a slave plantation in Eastern Shore Maryland and rebelled throughout his time there. He was beaten and tormented due to his thirst for freedom and defiance towards enslavement under the system of racism white supremacy.
Frederick later returned to Baltimore, Maryland. He then met a young free black woman named Anna Murray, who agreed to help him escape. On September 3, 1838, he disguised himself as a sailor and boarded a northbound train and used the money Anna gave him to pay for his ticket. Frederick arrived in New York City within a day and declared himself free.
In 1861, the Civil War began in the United States. Frederick Douglass worked hard to make emancipation from slavery a possibly when the war ended. He leads calls and recruited African-American men to fight in the United States Army which included two of his sons. They fought in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The movie Glory, starring Denzel Washington was based on the fighting 54th!
As the war continued Frederick Douglas continued his fight for freedom for all African-Americans who were still in bondage of the wicket system of oppression. He helps convinced President Abraham Lincoln to push for The 13th Amendment (ratified in 1865) abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment (ratified in 1868) granted national birthright citizenship, and the 15th Amendment (ratified in 1870) stated nobody could be denied voting rights on the basis of race, skin color, or previous servitude. Frederick Douglas also married his longtime love Anne Douglas.
In 1872, the Douglass family moved to Washington, D.C and After the fall of Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass managed to retain high-ranking federal appointments. He served under five presidents as U.S. Marshal for D.C. (1877-1881), Recorder of Deeds for D.C. (1881-1886), and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti (1889-1891). Significantly, he held these positions at a time when violence and fraud severely restricted African-American political activism. Frederick continued a tenuous speaking tour schedule. His speeches continued to agitate for racial equality and women’s rights. In 1881, Douglass published his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
A sad note, tragedy struck Douglass’s life in 1882 when Anna died from a stroke. He remarried in 1884 to Helen Pitts, an activist and the daughter of former abolitionists.
On February 20, 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women. He arrived home to Cedar Hill, hours later he regrettably suffered a heart attack and passed away. Frederick was 77. He had remained a powerful figure in the battle for equality and justice for his entire life.
As you can see, throughout this article are pictures from Douglass’s home in Washington DC, when he served in the Federal Government along with his activism. The furniture in this house are the same ones that Frederick Douglass used when he was still living. As you can see the old time look of the house, the kitchen, and local appliances. The individual rooms of Frederick and his first and second wives as it was customary for married couples to sleep in separate rooms. His first wife Anne, when they first moved into the DC dwelling was mostly confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. The same wheelchair is seen in her room. The pictures of the living room and dining room were still frozen in time as well as the numerous pictures showcased throughout the house. There were rooms for her grandchildren in the attic but sadly I was unable to see it due to the condition of it during the initial tour.
For anyone in the Washington DC area, you can request a tour of the Frederick Douglass house at any time. For more details on obtaining tour passes as well as fees, parking and location please visit https://www.nps.gov/frdo/planyourvisit/fees.htm.