Book

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Cover of the book titled "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom."

David W. Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

(Simon & Schuster)

As a young man Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. He wrote three versions of his autobiography over the course of his lifetime and published his own newspaper.

Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, often to large crowds, using his own story to condemn slavery. He broke with Garrison to become a political abolitionist, a Republican, and eventually a Lincoln supporter. By the Civil War and during Reconstruction, Douglass became the most famous and widely travelled orator in the nation. He denounced the premature end of Reconstruction and the emerging Jim Crow era. Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. He sometimes argued politically with younger African Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights.

In this biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers. Blight tells the story of Douglass’s two marriages and his complex extended family. Douglass was not only a man of words, but a thinker steeped in Biblical story and theology.