In 2016, I had the honor and privilege of hearing and meeting the great-great- great grandson of Frederick Douglass at the Slave City Summit in Austin, Texas. His name is Kenneth B Morris, Jr. He is the Founder and President of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. Oh…and lets not forget he is also the great-great grandson of Booker T. Washington. I was confused as well, but awesome nonetheless. He mentioned that he wasn’t comfortable being associated with someone of Douglass’ caliber and legendary status. He said that there were huge shoes to fill, and his feet weren’t quite big enough; He literally gave us a story of him trying on a pair of Douglass’ shoes when he was a young boy (that’s not intimidating). What made Frederick Douglass so significant in the abolitionist movement? Well, I am glad you asked.
Douglass became an adult at the age of six. Okay, not really an adult, but he was tasked with overseeing a slave master’s daughter after being sold…at six.. years old! Seriously?? At six, I was trying to avoid being forced to eat green olives by my dad. I love them now but I really hated them back then. Anyway, Frederick didn’t know how to read (because it was forbidden to do so) but luckily the slave master’s wife saw fit to teach him to read. As he became older, Frederick was shipped off to become a slave-hand, working in various places including shipyards. He would use this opportunity to read and memorize material as much as possible. Douglass was hungry for knowledge. He also understood his predicament. Frederick had a burning desire to be free. What grew in that burning desire was for his voice to be heard. Look, Douglass was around 6’2” and was of broad stature. Working as a slave allowed his body to become as such. But would his voice match his physique?
According to William Lloyd Garrison, YES! Garrison, who was white, was an American journalist, editor and a prominent leader in the abolitionist movement of the 19th century. He once heard Douglass speak and thought that he could be a great asset to the movement. Garrison had asked Frederick to speak at an anti-slavery rally in Massachusetts. From there the rest is history. His voice and timbre was that of a preacher. His authoritative and great oratory style of speaking allowed for many of those listening to rally behind the abolitionist movement. This is what Douglass wanted: the opportunity to speak is his mind. But he had one problem? He wasn’t quite free…just yet. You see, he was on the run (while still speaking at anti-slavery rallies) and his slave master was doing everything he could to locate him. He would eventually marry, but he spent two years in England before advising a plan to have his freedom bought. Douglass was once quoted saying “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.”
He returned to the states after the two years, but now as a free man. Douglass would write his own biography (in addition to publishing several more books). He knew how important education was. His writings, speeches, and just his presence alone, was a cause for pushing the narrative that slavery had to end! It needed to end like yesterday. He even captured the attention and had the privilege of speaking with President Abraham Lincoln. If was after this meeting that the move to draft the Emancipation Proclamation took shape. Frederick would remarry (After his first wife’s death) and even helped with fighting in the Civil War. Douglass owned his own newspaper; so his words, his ideology, his passion, would be made clear for all to read. His words are still read and admired today to help bring awareness and an end to human trafficking.
“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” – Frederick Douglass