Monday, January 2, 2012

52 Week 1 - Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man

Frederick Douglass

What do you say about the man who was everything?

Frederick Douglass was born a slave, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February 1818. Like a lot of slaves of that era, his exact date of birth is unknown. His entire life was dedicated to social reform, abolitionism, oratory and writing. He was one of the pre-eminent statesmen of his time and an early pioneer of what would come to be known as the ‘slave narrative’.

His escape from slavery set him up to become one of the leading abolitionists and his dazzling oratory and writing were an integral arsenal in the abolitionist cause. His very existence was a rebuttal of the claim that slaves were intellectually inferior. He wrote numerous autobiographies and held numerous public offices.  From extremely humble beginnings and living through incredible hardships, he managed to make great strides. He taught himself to read, and he never gave in to the despair of his condition as a slave. He was not a perfect man, and his personal life was sometimes chaotic, especially after the death of his first wife, but this cannot overshadow the great things he accomplished.

Throughout his life, he held fast to his belief in equality for all, no matter their race, class or gender and he was a tireless worker in the fight against slavery, racism, sexism and oppression. He was fervent in his belief that education was the great equalizer in society. He received worldwide acclaim and he has received numerous accolades and honours a few of which include: being on the list of the 100 greatest African Americans, his home is considered an historic site, he has a bridge named after him, and numerous public schools and other public places are named after him.

Sometimes books do have the power to change lives. I was maybe 16 or 17 when I first read Frederick Douglass’ ‘Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave.’  What impressed me most, was that despite its grim subject matter, Douglass managed to have an optimistic tone at parts. Frederick Douglass’ narrative voice was so strong that I could almost hear him reading it to me. It was a hell of a way to be formally introduced to someone. Of course I’d heard of him, but to hear of a person, and read their own words are two different things. Even for a person like myself, slavery doesn’t always seem quite real, it seems like ancient history, but scarcely more than 200 years ago, it existed. It was as real as anything, and it was brutal. Reading narratives such as Douglass are an integral part of making sure that this history is never white-washed, sugar coated or forgotten. Pick up any one of his autobiographies if you can. In so many ways, they inspired me. The eloquence of his fury is something I can only hope to emulate. Frederick Douglass, was born a slave, but he died an entirely free man.

Greatest quote:

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.

Lloyd Webber

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