Frederick Douglass escaped slavery to become a leading speaker and writer for the anti-slavery movement in America. Despite having very little formal education, Douglass wrote two books that influenced slavery to end in America. He believed that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” While still a slave, Douglass taught himself to read by learning from white children in his neighborhood. As a slave on a plantation, he taught fellow slaves to read the New Testament of the Bible. He later fought for school desegregation.
After escaping slavery, Douglass became a licensed preacher in a Christian church, which helped him become a great speaker. At age 23, he delivered a moving speech about his former life as a slave at the annual convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. From then on, Douglass began publicly speaking out against slavery, traveling to lecture halls throughout the U.S. with the American Anti-Slavery Society. He also published an anti-slavery newspaper, the “North Star,” from the basement of a church. The “North Star’s” motto was “Right is of no Sex-- Truth is of no Color-- God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.”
Douglass also advocated for women’s rights. He was the only African American that attended the first women’s rights convention (Seneca Falls Convention) in upstate New York.
Because of his masterful public speaking on a variety of social reforms, Douglass is considered the most influential African American of the nineteenth century.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
Douglass was a devout Christian who credited Jesus’s teachings as the motivation for his work to free slaves. In his autobiography, “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” Douglass wrote about coming to faith in God while he was still a slave:
“I was not more than thirteen years old, when in my loneliness and destitution I longed for some one to whom I could go, as to a father and protector. The preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson, was the means of causing me to feel that in God I had such a friend. He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God: that they were by nature rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ. I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what was required of me, but one thing I did know well: I was wretched and had no means of making myself otherwise.
I consulted a good old colored man named Charles Lawson, and in tones of holy affection he told me to pray, and to "cast all my care upon God." This I sought to do; and though for weeks I was a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light, and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially, did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.”
Douglass used the teachings of the Bible to make a case against slavery. He publicly criticized slaveowners and pastors who supported slavery as not following the Christianity of Christ. He said that “to hold and traffic in human flesh is a sin against God” and that if the gospel of Christ were truly preached, no one would “offer himself as a slave-driver.”
In a famous speech, Douglass said about Christianity:
“I believe it is the religious people who are to be relied on in this Anti-Slavery movement…. I love the religion of Christianity-- which cometh from above-- which is pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of good fruits, and without hypocrisy…. There is another religion [than the pro-slavery religion]. It is that which takes off fetters instead of binding them on-- that breaks every yoke-- that lifts up the bowed down. The Anti-Slavery platform is based on this kind of religion. It spreads its table to the lame, the halt, and the blind. It goes down after a long neglected race. It passes, link by link till it finds the lowest link in humanity’s chain—humanity’s most degraded form in the most abject condition. It reaches down its arm and tells them to stand up. This is Anti-Slavery — this is Christianity. It is reviving gloriously among the various denominations. It is threatening to supersede those old forms of religion having all of the love of God and none of man in it.”