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Clint Smith teaches you about one of the most famous writers, orators, and advocates of the 19th century, Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born in slavery, escaped to the North, and became one of the most influential people of his time. Douglass wrote about the experience of slavery in a way that captured the attention of people throughout the world, and his work and influence helped directly in the struggle to abolish slavery and achieve emancipation.

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Sources and References
-David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018)
-Christopher James Bonner, Remaking The Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020)
-Kellie Carter Jackson, Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).


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#crashcourse #history #frederickdouglass
Hi, I’m Clint Smith, and this is Crash  Course Black American History.   Today we're going to be discussing a true legend.   Truly one of the greatest to ever do it.

He was  the most photographed man of the 19th century.   He wrote speeches that got standing ovations on  both sides of the Atlantic. And he wrote books   that made people across the world understand the  barbarity and cruelty of slavery in new ways.   And, in addition to his advocacy, he is legit one  of the best writers America has ever produced.   Today we're getting into the Life and Times  of the one and only Mr.

Frederick Douglass.   INTRO Douglass was born Frederick Bailey   in Maryland in either 1817 or 1818. His  mother was an enslaved woman, and his father   was a white man rumored to have been his  mother's enslaver. He saw very little of   his mother as a child, because she lived on  a different plantation 12 miles away.   Douglass’s mother died when he was only seven  years old and he was raised by his grandmother.   Family separation was one of the most horrific  parts of enslavement and it was not uncommon   for enslaved children to be split apart  from their parents, even at an early age.   In his book Soul by Soul, historian Walter  Johnson writes, “Of the two thirds of a million   interstate sales made by the traders  in the decades before the Civil War,   twenty-five percent involved the destruction of  a first marriage and fifty percent destroyed a   nuclear family — many of these separating children  under the age of thirteen from their parents.”   When Douglass was a child, the wife of one  of his enslavers, Sophia Auld, began teaching   him the alphabet and a few short words.

This  began to open up the world to young Frederick,   whose blooming literacy allowed him to  see the world around him in a new way.   But soon, Sophia’s husband Hugh put a stop to  these lessons by telling his wife that “If you   teach [him] how to read, there would be no keeping  him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.”   But Douglass did learn to read, and he later  went on to hold secret meetings to teach   other enslaved people how to read as well. And it wasn’t only Douglass’ ability to read   that made his story remarkable.

One of the  most infamous stories from Douglass's life,   before he escaped slavery, was the  day he decided to fight back.   In Narrative of the Life of Frederick  Douglass, the first of his three memoirs,  . Douglass discussed a man named Edward Covey.  Covey was what was known as a “slave-breaker”   known for "breaking" unruly enslaved people  who presented problems to planters. And Covey   was notoriously ruthless.

In early 1833, Douglass was rented out to Covey,   and for months was subjected to unrelenting abuse.  Sometimes after he had been whipped by Covey,   the gashes he had from his previous  beatings had not even healed yet.   One sweltering day in August, Douglass passed  out from working arduously in the heat.   When Covey discovered him, he beat him severely  until blood was dripping from his head.   Douglass vowed to himself that he  would never let this happen again.   When Covey next attempted to beat  Douglass, Douglass fought back so fiercely   that Edward Covey never touched him again. In his memoir, Douglass wrote, “This battle   with Mr. Covey was the turning point in  my career as a slave.

It rekindled the few   expiring embers of freedom, and revived within  me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the   departed self-confidence, and inspired me  again with a determination to be free.”   But it wasn’t only through physical resistance  that Douglass reasserted and affirmed his   humanity. It was, as it was for millions of  other enslaved people, also done through the   community they built and relationships they  cultivated.

Let's go to the thought bubble.   On September 15th, 1838, Douglass married a  free Black woman named Anna Murray. We know   Frederick Douglass to be one of the most famous  and influential figures in American history,   but the lesser known Anna played an important  role in helping Douglass escape to freedom   in the first place, and also took on the burden  of financially supporting their family before  . Douglass's career as an orator paid the bills.

Douglass had already desperately wanted freedom,   but meeting and falling in love  with a woman who herself was free,   only reaffirmed that desire. He borrowed papers  and a sailor’s uniform for a disguise.   His journey required him to hop on a moving  train, avoid anyone who may have recognized him,   and take a detour by ferry; all to get him  from Baltimore to New York within a day.   Douglass later wrote of arriving in New  York City, “A new world had opened upon me.   If life is more than breath, and the "quick  round of blood," I lived more in one day   than in a year of my slave life.  It was a time of joyous excitement   which words can but tamely describe.” Anna met him there shortly after   and they were married just eleven  days after Douglass had arrived.   As you can tell, Anna looked out for Fred, way  before the rest of the world would know his name.   Like many Black women though, she doesn’t always  get the credit she deserves in the historical   record, but know that without Anna Murray, there  would be no Frederick Douglass as we know him.   Thanks, Thought Bubble. Frederick and Anna settled in Massachusetts,   where Frederick became a prominent anti-slavery  orator and abolitionist.

It was here that he and   Anna also adopted Douglass as their surname. He  told his story of life as an enslaved person in   ways that illuminated the realities of slavery to  those who might not have otherwise been familiar   with it, and further radicalized those  who had already believed it was wrong.   Word of his remarkable speeches began  to spread and garnered the attention of   many white abolitionists. The most famous of  these, perhaps, was William Lloyd Garrison.   Douglass would go on to work on Garrison's  abolitionist publication: The Liberator.

It was   during this time at the Liberator that Douglass  would write his first and most well-known book,  . Narrative of the Life Of Frederick Douglass,  an American Slave. It was published in 1845.   This book was a remarkable achievement--and  remains one of my own personal favorite books   of all time.

But many white people  at the time of its publication,   thought it was almost too remarkable. So  much so that they questioned whether a   formerly enslaved person could have  written such a thing. But Douglass   did write it, and with it, he helped transform  the conversation on slavery across the country.   Douglass eventually left The Liberator  and after spending two years in Europe,   he returned to the US in 1847 and  partnered with physician, abolitionist,   and black nationalist Martin Delany to form a  liberationist newspaper called The North Star.   A true reflection of Douglass's activism in  advocating for the rights of Black people   as well as the rights of women, the paper's  motto read: "Right is of no Sex - Truth is   of no Color - God is the Father of  us all, and all we are brethren."   The North Star had a wide array of issues to  cover, including the nation-wide controversy   over the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

We’ve  previously discussed the Fugitive Slave act   of 1793, which empowered enslavers to apprehend  runaways, and sometimes just any Black person,   making both escaped slaves and free  Black folks alike susceptible to   bounty hunters in cities throughout the North. But in the new 1850 version, the mandate made   things even worse. Under this new law, a part of  the Compromise of 1850, federal commissioners paid   bounty hunters to return fugitives, and penalties  for interfering with the apprehension of runaways   became far more strict.

Moreover, citizens were now required   to aid in detaining runaways, basically abiding by  the mantra "if you see something, say something."   This act and the Dred Scott Decision had many  Black people wondering if freedom in America   was even possible. But instead of accepting   that the “slavery question” had been definitively  answered, Douglass made a public speech addressing   the inhumanity of the verdict directly. He boldly  shot back: "You will readily ask me how I am   affected by this devilish decision—this judicial  incarnation of wolfishness?

My answer is, and no   thanks to the slaveholding wing of the Supreme  Court, my hopes were never brighter than now."   Determined to fight back against the tyranny  black people faced during this tumultuous time,   as a devout Christian, Douglass relied  on his faith and trusted God to restore   balance in America. At the very least, he  suspected that God was ultimately on the   abolitionists' side of this fight and that God  was more powerful than any U. S.

Supreme Court.   But still Douglass believed that God wouldn’t  act on his own, and that he couldn’t sit back   and wait for some sort of divine intervention.  During the Civil War, Douglass actively pushed   President Abraham Lincoln to prioritize Black  freedom in his efforts to preserve the Union. He   presented the issue as a matter of war policy. Douglass believed that allowing Black men to   fight in the war would show to the country how  committed Black people were to the United States.   By showcasing an ultimate display of patriotism,  Douglass thought that Black men would be able to   demonstrate their worthiness of citizenship.

And Douglass was so committed to this idea,   he even recruited his sons Lewis and  Charles to fight in the Union army.   Douglass’s advocacy played a significant role  in President Lincoln's decision to enact the  . Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This  proclamation resulted in much-needed leverage for   the Union and shifted both the domestic dynamics  and the international implications of the war.   After the war, Douglass continued  to travel making speeches,   writing essays, and revising his earlier books.

Douglass served in multiple political appointments   in the post-war years, including President of the  Freedman’s Savings Bank, United States Marshal for   the District of Columbia, and minister-resident  and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti.   He also started a new newspaper, The  New National Era. My man stayed busy.   There’s so much to say about Frederick Douglass,  and not nearly enough time. I will say that if   you haven’t spent much time with his writing, you  absolutely should.

My man’s pen game was vicious.   He wrote so prolifically and so beautifully, it’s  hard to think of something that was happening in   19th century America that he didn’t write about. There are some historians today,   who claim that, in many ways, Frederick  Douglass should be considered to be one of   our founding fathers, because while he wasn’t  at the Constitutional convention of 1787,   he did play an enormous role in helping  the country directly confront the ways   that it was failing to live up to its promise.  Thanks for watching. I'll see you next time.   Crash Course is made with the  help of all these nice people   and our animation team is Thought Cafe.

Crash Course is a Complexly production.   And, if you’d like to keep Crash Course free  for everybody, forever, you can support the   series at Patreon; a crowdfunding platform that  allows you to support the content you love. Thank   you to all of our patrons for making Crash  Course possible with their continued support.