If someone would to say that Frederick Douglass was the single most important black American leader of the nineteenth century, they would be able to support that claim with plenty of evidence. Many believe that Douglass himself is second only to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his impact on the movement towards equality for Black Americans. Born as a slave in 1818 in Maryland, and escaping twenty years later, Douglass is one of the few people in history to know life on both sides of the coin, per say. After his escape, Douglass would write the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave which was written in 1845 and gave people insight into what life as a slave was really like, opening the eyes of many to the injustice that was taking place around them. This, along with two other autobiographies written by Douglass are regarded as the best examples of slave narrative tradition in history.
His legacy is much more than his ability to tell his stories and use those stories as anti-slavery propaganda. Douglass was a fantastic writer and orator, and was able to use these skills to be an editor for an influential black newspaper and speak around the country to influence people’s opinions on the intelligent black male. His speeches and editorials numbered in the thousands, with each leading an incredibly persuasive view against slavery. His voice was recognizable (largely due to his wonderful use of irony), and repetitive to the point where it was impossible to ignore the message he was trying to spread across America.
His impact continued during the American Civil War in 1861 when he was a propagandist to the Union army and was even used as an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln on multiple occasions. Although he was incorrect in thinking that the Union Victory was the swiftest way towards total equality for Black Americans, Douglass’s goals persisted until his death in 1895. In these later years, Douglass moved to Washington D.C. where we would serve as marshal and recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia and was also minister to Haiti.
Frederick Douglass was much more than his actions, he was a symbol for the movement. He was unique in the way he spoke and wrote, and showed a human side that had not been seen from prominent black individuals during that era. Douglass was brilliant yet complex and that all added to a level of heroism that was never before seen. His writings are still referred to and revered today, and the example he set has been and will be followed by activists for centuries. His story of going from being born as a slave to becoming a prominent writer, activist, and adviser to the President of the United States is a tale of magnificent perseverance and hard work that goes beyond admirable civil rights advocate, to simply being admirable person.