Frederick Douglass A Man's Vision by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Frederick Douglass was one of the most charismatic speakers in the 19th century anti-slavery movement.  He was so good at moving audiences from anger to laughter to tears people didn’t believe he had actually been a slave.  White abolitionists asked him to use more “plantation language” in his speeches so that people would believe him.

I had no bed.  The pigs in the pen had leaves, and the horses in the stable had straw, but the children had no beds.
— Frederick Douglass

No.  He said he wouldn’t play any roles.

With no formal education, the ability to read was Frederick’s path to freedom and he learned to read by the time he was 13-years-old.  Then he challenged his schoolboy friends to help him learn to write by chalking letters on sidewalks and fences. 

Frederick’s way of convincing people he too experienced the hardships and humiliations of slavery was to finish his first autobiography in 1845, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”   

With the book and his lectures he described his personal experience of bondage, the starvings and whippings wherever he traveled.  The text gave white Americans a firsthand, unapologetic look at the victim’s side of slavery. 

“I had no bed.  The pigs in the pen had leaves, and the horses in the stable had straw, but the children had no beds,” he said.

Frederick went to become one of the leading black spokesmen for the anti-slavery movement.  He condemned slavery and the custom of forcing black people to use rear seats in public places, even in churches. 

In 1855, Frederick published his second autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom.”  The book took a deeper cut into his life as a slave.

He met Pres. Abraham Lincoln face-to-face in the summer of 1863.  There was no vanity about the man Frederick said.  Lincoln seemed to have no prejudice. 

 “I at once felt myself in the presence of an honest man—one whom I could love, honor and trust without reserve or doubt,” he said.

Frederick campaigned for Lincoln’s reelection and met with him once again to discuss the future of black Americans after the Civil War.  The president was moving in the right direction he said. 

He was also invited to Lincoln’s second inauguration but on his way into an evening reception at the White House was blocked from entering.  Lincoln quickly stepped in and Frederick got through.

When Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 Frederick joined mourners.

“Dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate---for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him,” he said.

On Feb. 20, 1895, Frederick attended a women’s rights meeting with Susan B. Anthony to help develop a strategy for getting women the right to vote.  When he returned home that evening he slumped to the floor and died of a heart attack. 

Frederick never stopped crusading for the rights of black Americans and equality for all human beings.

On March 10, Swann Auction Galleries, New York, featured a selection of Frederick Douglass artifacts in its Printed & Manuscript African Americana sale.

Frederick Douglass

Pin-Back Button; Unveiling of the Douglass Monument; June 9, 1899; Rochester, N.Y, 1 ¾ inches diameter;  $360.

Bronze Medal; slavery and abolition movement; “Judge us not by the splendid Caucasian civilization.  Judge us now in comparison with the depths from which we have come” 1895;  $2,040.

Photographic Portrait; The Frederick Douglass Souvenir; full-page; plus three additional full-page photographic plates of the Douglass home; and one of him in his library; circa 1894;  $2,880.

Abolitionist Newspaper; “A Voice From The Jail;” very early mention of Douglass; Dec. 25, 1842;  $3,600.

Carte-de-visite Photo; bearded, middle-aged Douglass; circa 1860s;  $7,200.                                            

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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