News & Updates
February 18, 2013
Frederick Douglass was a man who continually reinvented himself and would, in time, create the modern American civil rights movement and reshape American politics.
The son of a slave woman and an unknown white man, “Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey” was born in February of 1818 on Maryland’s eastern shore. He spent his early years with his grandparents and with an aunt, seeing his mother only four or five times before her death when he was seven. While growing up, he was witnessed the degradations of slavery, seeing firsthand brutal whippings and spending much time cold and hungry. At the age of eight he was sent to Baltimore to live with a ship carpenter named Hugh Auld. It was there he learned to read and first heard the words abolition and abolitionists. “Going to live at Baltimore,” Douglass would later recall, “laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity.”
Douglass enjoyed seven relatively comfortable years in Baltimore before being sent back to the country, where he was hired out to a farm run by a notoriously brutal “slavebreaker” named Edward Covey. And the treatment he received was indeed brutal. Whipped daily and barely fed, Douglass was “broken in body, soul, and spirit.” These events were to propel him to become an activist against slavery.
Frederick Douglass – Mini Bio
On January 1, 1836, he resolved that he would be free by the end of the year. He planned an escape. But early in April he was jailed after his plan was discovered. Two years later, while living in Baltimore and working at a shipyard, Douglass would finally realize his dream: he fled the city on September 3, 1838. Traveling by train, then steamboat, then train, he arrived in New York City the following day. Several weeks later he had settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, living with his newlywed bride (whom he met in Baltimore and married in New York) under his new name, Frederick Douglass.
Douglass continued to educate himself and was an avid reader. In New Bedford, he attended Abolitionists’ meetings and subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly journal, the Liberator. After meeting Garrison in 1841, Douglass was mentioned in the Liberator and a few days later gave a speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in Nantucket. It was reported that, “Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence.” Douglass became a lecturer for the Society for three years and his career as a speaker was launched.
Douglass was also an author and publisher. In 1945, despite fears that the information might endanger his freedom, he published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By Himself. Three years later, after a speaking tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland, Douglass published the first issue of the North Star, a four-page weekly, out of Rochester, New York.
During the Civil War, he conferred with Abraham Lincoln and helped the Union Army recruit northern blacks to fight in the conflict. Later he would go on to serve as U.S. minister to Haiti.
During his long life, he fought for the right not only of African Americans, but women and other oppressed minorities. Through his writing, speaking and political activities, he helped establish the modern American civil rights movement. He had an enduring vision of America achieving justice and equal rights for all its citizens. But first and foremost, he had a continually evolving vision of himself as someone who, despite his early years as a slave, deserved the freedom, dignity and respect he fought so diligently to obtain for others.
October 1, 2012
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry. Founded in 1971, SPLC is known for investigating and exposing hate group activities throughout the world. They focus on widespread issues of social injustice including children at risk, hate and extremism, immigrant justice, and LGBT rights. But they go a step beyond fighting hate and seeking justice for the vulnerable. The SPLC conducts one of the nation’s leading programs for teaching tolerance.
Their ground-breaking Teaching Tolerance program is dedicated to cultivating inclusive, nurturing school environments where “equality and justice are not just taught, but lived.” They produce and distribute documentary films, books, lesson plans and other materials that promote tolerance – free of charge. The Teaching Tolerance program reaches hundreds of thousands of educators and millions of students – empowering “a new generation to live in a diverse world.”
The SPLC Teaching Tolerance program has a number of powerful tools in their arsenal. Their award-winning Teaching Tolerance magazine provides educators across the country with a forum to learn about and exchange ideas on teaching for about diversity. The Teaching Diverse Students Initiative is an online project focused on improving instruction for racially and ethnically diverse students. SPLC has even developed a special program designed to empower students themselves to take the lead in promoting tolerance and understanding. Called Mix It Up at Lunch Day, this national program has a simple premise: students are encouraged to sit with someone new in the cafeteria for just one day – “a small step that can go a long way toward breaking down social and racial barriers.”
Imagine what might happen if everyone took just one day out of our busy lives to “mix it up” – to sit next to someone we don’t know on the bus, or strike up a conversation with a new colleague in the lunchroom, or turn around in the grocery line and introduce ourselves to a stranger. We can all learn a lot from this remarkable Teaching Tolerance program. Perhaps we can take a page from Eleanor Roosevelt’s United Nations address back in 1953:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.”