The famous escaped slave and abolitionist is shown in the painting above in a stately pose. Sepia-toned likenesses of young Frederick, learning to read and later practicing his gift of great oratory, provide a backdrop.
Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave and an influential force for the abolition of slavery. His speaking skills were so moving that he was encouraged to write an autobiography of his life under slavery. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglasswas the first of his three impactful autobiographies. The exposure created by his work put him in danger of being recaptured and so he chose to flee to Ireland and Britain where slavery had already been abolished. He later returned to America and started the abolitionist newspaper the North Star. Considered by many to be the most influential African American of the 19th century, Douglass pushed for a variety of reforms including: women's rights, land reform, free public education, and peace. He fervently believed in and promoted agitation as a requirement for social change.
The following poem is provided as audio to accompany the above video:
Born to Such a Fate
Why should you, such an innocent child be born to such a fate Stripped of everything, even a recorded birth date? Severed from your mother’s love before you could ask her Whether your father was her brutal slave master
Your birthrights be privation and starvation A life of hard labor, beatings, and devoid of education This, in a nation such as ours, one in liberty so steeply conceived How we not only depraved you but our own ideals so deceived
But you, you would be called to help lift a people and a nation whole To free the chattel from chains and direct the country from a guiltful soul For slavery could not forever hold you within its foul embrace Your narrative would provide a mirror for all of us to face
As a child something already stirred inside as you saw the need To rise above the oppression through teaching yourself to read But for the brutality of slavery you proved in kind Chance truly does favor the well-prepared mind
Your faith did not waiver your courage did not abate And finally your planned escape would find an open gate The freedom to speak, so long suppressed, would then Explode in brilliant oratory that moved the hearts of men
Your words would put us on a path to set your brothers free And help direct a union at odds with its own destiny Yes, this innocent child born to such a fate would be the inspiration Keeping us on the long road to perfecting this great nation