Frederick Douglass always knew he was meant to be free

Taking to the podium throughout his life,the former slave fought with tireless eloquenceto "secure the Blessings of Liberty" for all

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Frederick Douglass was 6 years old when he began his life as a slave. By the standards of slavery, Douglass was often to get favored treatment. But the realities were to include hunger, cold and seeing his fellow slaves savagely beaten. These realities of slavery were an outrage Douglass refused to accept almost from the first day, and the struggle begun then would in time anger and inspire millions of Americans.

Escaping to freedom at age 20, Douglass soon established himself in the antislavery movement as a fearless enemy of the slave owner. In his lectures he spoke with wit, erudition and richness of voice to rival Daniel Webster's.

On all accounts, Douglass had an astonishing life. Before there was a civil rights movement, he led a movement in New York to desegregate schools. Later, his tireless voice helped lay the groundwork for the emancipation of slaves and for the 15th Amendment. Even at the end of his life, when he had seen the failure of his grand vision that freedom and the vote would win blacks an equal place with whites, he never stopped fighting to end prejudice. In 1894, in one of his greatest speeches, he implored the nation to "put away your race prejudice.... Recognize...that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worthy of protection as are those of the highest, and...your Republic will stand and flourish forever."

About Richard Conniff
Richard Conniff

Richard Conniff, a Smithsonian contributor since 1982, is the author of seven books about human and animal behavior.

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