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Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey is born to a slave mother in Maryland. He might have been unfree, but that name said he was destined for greatness.
When little F.A.W.B. is eight or nine years old, Sophia Auld, wife of his owner, teaches him to read. She's new to slaveholding and doesn't realize this is a no-no until her husband tells her. By that time, little Freddie has already learned enough to continue teaching himself.
Probably as a teenager, Frederick A. to the W. to the B comes across Caleb Bingham's 1797 textbook The Columbian Orator. As a way to teach classical rhetoric, the book uses speeches and arguments against slavery. The book gets Frederick started on the abolitionist path, and when he escapes slavery, he takes it with him.
On his second attempt to get to freedom, Frederick Bailey skips the Underground Railroad and instead takes a real railroad from Baltimore to New York in less than twenty-four hours. He does it by passing himself off as a sailor through the use of a clever disguise and fake ID. The cash to pay for the disguise, the fake ID, and the trip comes from Anna Murray, his fiancée, who's from a free black family in Baltimore.
Douglass (he'd changed his name to avoid capture) subscribes to William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper while living in New Bedford, Connecticut. This publication brings him up to speed on the current abolitionist movement and convinces him to get involved.
Douglass speaks up at a meeting of abolitionists. The other members say, "Let's get this guy in front of a crowd!" (We also love a Hamilton reference.) And the rest is history. But sadly this first speech wasn't recorded, so…we have no idea what he said.
This is one of Douglass' first major speeches against slavery, and it's a prime example of early-Douglass oratory.
Douglass speaks at dozens of meetings of abolitionists in New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. If the talk show circuit had been around back then, this would've been it.
Some doubters think there's no way this sizzling new speaker could be a slave, so Douglass writes his first biography to prove it.
Things get a little hot stateside as Douglass emerges from the crowd, giving slave catchers the lead they needed. He takes his speaking game international. Arriving in Ireland in 1845, Douglass is amazed being in a country where he can walk into any hotel or restaurant or train and be treated like anyone else. He comes back with enough dough to buy his freedom and a newspaper. Beats 40 acres and a mule, are we right?
Douglass attends this historic meeting and supports a resolution encouraging suffrage for women.
Rochester, New York is a hot spot for abolitionists, so Douglass moves there and adds writing to his résumé. He publishes an abolitionist newspaper called The North Star, which becomes Frederick Douglass' Paper in 1851. The paper is largely funded by the abolitionists he met while in Ireland and Britain.
The big-wigs of Rochester ask Douglass to speak at their Independence Day celebrations. In one of his more famous speeches, Douglass calls out pretty much the whole country for celebrating freedom while people were enslaved.
Douglass takes his warm-up speech from the day before and incorporates it into a very lengthy speech on the same theme. He gives this speech to the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, NY.
Having lived in the North for a good while, Douglass writes about the racial injustice and prejudice he experienced in both the North and the South. As in "The Church and Prejudice," Douglass points out the ways both regions were failing big time.
Douglass briefly flees to Canada after John Brown's attack on the U.S. arsenal in Harper's Ferry, VA. Douglass refuses Brown's invitation to take part and tries to talk Brown out of it, thinking it would be a disaster for their cause. (He was proven right.) Fearing guilt by association, he decides to get out of the country for a while.
In the first shots of the Civil War, Confederate Troops fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.
The Emancipation Proclamation is often regarded as the end of slavery, but it doesn't have much immediate effect because it frees only those slaves in states in rebellion…a.k.a. states that aren't listening to the United States government anyway. While lots of abolitionists don't think the old E.P. did enough, Douglass likes it. The real achievement of the Emancipation Proclamation is to make abolition a Union war goal. Douglass was doing a lot of speaking on behalf of the Union Army, so he's down with that.
General Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, making the end of the war just a matter of time. It officially ends in late May, but Lee's surrender is generally known as the end of the Civil War.
The Constitution gets a baker's dozen of amendments when slavery is officially outlawed. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. The amendment leaves a loophole that allows people convicted of a crime to be re-enslaved (or enslaved for the first time). Think this sounds like a recipe for wrongful conviction? You'd be right. Check out the documentary Thirteenth.
As if he hadn't done enough world-changing already, Douglass serves as the U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti.
This one is all about Douglass' activism. It's part-memoir, part-look ahead. He discusses everything that's been achieved and how far we still have to go. Spoiler alert: far.
Between a meeting for the National Council for Women and a planned speaking engagement, Douglass goes home for a breather and instead suffers a massive heart attack or stroke.