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Frederick Douglass

From 1818
 to 1895

Frederick Douglass was born in February 1818, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When he was eight-years-old, Douglass was sent to Baltimore to live as a houseboy with some relatives of his master. Shortly after his arrival his new mistress taught him the alphabet. Her husband forbade her to continue this instruction, but Douglass was undeterred. He gave away his food in exchange for lessons in reading and writing from the neighborhood boys. At about the age of twelve or thirteen, Douglass purchased a copy of a popular schoolbook and gained an understanding of the power of the spoken and the written word. He saw their potential to bring about permanent, positive change. During his teen years, Douglass was forced to return to the Eastern Shore to work as a field hand. Under the monstrous brutality of the notorious Edward Covey, Douglass challenged the evil and inhumanity of the legalized slavery system. This resulted in a series of confrontations that eventually persuaded Douglass' master to send him back to Baltimore. After he turned twenty, Douglass escaped from his slavery by impersonating a sailor.

He went to New Bedford, Massachusetts. He married Anna Murray and began to raise a family there. He attended abolitionist meetings, and eventually he became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and a colleague of William Lloyd Garrison. This work led him into public speaking and writing. He published his own newspaper, The North Star, and wrote three autobiographies. He was internationally recognized as an uncompromising abolitionist and tireless worker for justice and equal opportunity. He became a trusted advisor to Abraham Lincoln, United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for Washington, D.C., and Minister-General to the Republic of Haiti.

Douglass' religious life was strained to say the least. A Christian, he came to have little patience for the established church. As a free man, he was denied participation in the sacrament in certain churches because of his race. His religious sensibility became further disillusioned when he read the arguments of many prominent theologians that the Bible in fact endorsed the institution of slavery. He judged that the church was just as crippled by its prejudice as the rest of society, making a mockery of Paul's conclusion in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, because the church is one in Christ Jesus. For Douglass, it was simple. Just as there could be no justice in society without genuine liberty, there could be no morality among believers without a recognition that every believer is equally at liberty in Christ.