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Frederick Douglass

At the literary level, Frederick Douglass's primary legacy consists of his work Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. As the title suggests, this is the story of Douglass's life; and it lent considerable energy to the abolitionist movement. In this sense, it could be understood as conceptually related to Dubois's later work The Souls of Black Folk. Both men gave powerful voice to the Black American experience.  

Introduction and Background

Frederick Douglass, born in February of 1818, was an African-American abolitionist, orator, social reformer, statesman, and writer. He was born into slavery in Maryland, most likely in his grandmother’s lean-to shack near Tuckahoe Creek and named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He escaped from slavery, dropped his middle names, and changed his surname to Douglass to elude recapture. He became an influential leader in the abolitionist movement and garnered a lot of attention for his astounding rhetoric and his strong, anti-slavery writings. While slave owners maintained that slaves simply lacked the intellectual potential to function as independent citizens, Frederick Douglass was a living example of the contrary- intelligent, educated, capable, and thriving. 

Works

Frederick Douglass is the author of several famous writings and speeches. His writings include such titles as:

- A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. An American Slave

- In the Words of Frederick Douglass: Quotations from Liberty’s Champion

- Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

- My Bondage and My Freedom

- The Heroic Slave

- The North Star

He is also known for his notable speeches, such as Self-Made Men, “Speech at National Hall, Philadelphia July 6, 1863 for the Promotion of Colored Enlistments”, “The Church and Prejudice”, and “What to a slave is the 4th of July?”.

Writing Style

Douglass’s language, though it may seem slightly overformal compared to today’s literature, is rather straightforward and was traditional of the times. He uses his writing to convey a message, and is very particular about how he presents that message so that the reader can more easily understand it. He does not use drawn out, complicated sentences and aims for clarity above all else. Though his sentence structure is simple, he did tend to use slightly elevated language and it is believed that he based his style off of the King James Bible, which he knew all readers would be familiar with. 

Additional Information

Though Frederick Douglass himself is long gone, his legacy and influence extend to today. The Episcopal Church honors Douglass annually on their liturgical calendar on February 20th, the anniversary of his death. In 1921, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the very first intercollegiate African-American fraternity, inducted Frederick Douglass as an honorary member and has been the only person to receive this honor posthumously. In the year 1950, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge was erected in his honor near the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. Twelve years later, in 1962, his home in Anacostia, Washington D.C. officially became part of the National Park System and was later designated as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in 1988. In 1999, Yale University created the Frederick Douglass Book Prize. The prize is for works in the history of slavery and abolition and is given in Douglass’s honor. The twenty five thousand dollars prize is given by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, in addition to the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. There are also several statues that have been erected to memorialize Douglass: a statue and memorial placed in Frederick Douglass Circle in Central Park in 2010; the seven-foot bronze statue in Easton, Maryland, placed in 2011; and a statue of Douglass unveiled in 2013 in the United States Capitol Visitor Center.

Conclusion

Unmistakably, Frederick Douglass impacted a strong and powerful influence on literature, but also on humanity as a whole. Even if he had not accomplished great professional achievements, his story of escaping from slavery and building a prosperous life for himself against all odds is an inspiring story that will never age. Frederick Douglass led his life in a way that encouraging, empowering, and inspiring.

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