Inge Ruth Hardison
is the creator of the sculpted portrait of Frederick
Frederick Douglass stood at the podium, trembling
with nervousness. Before him sat abolitionists who had
traveled to the Massachusetts island of Nantucket. Only 23
years old at the time, Douglass overcame his nervousness and
gave a stirring, eloquent speech about his life as a slave.
Douglass would continue to give speeches for the rest of his
life and would become a leading spokesperson for the
abolition of slavery and for racial equality.
The son of a slave woman and an unknown white man, "Frederick
Augustus Washington Bailey" was born in February of
1818 on Maryland's eastern shore. He spent his early
years with his grandparents and with an aunt, seeing his
mother only four or five times before her death when he was
seven. (All Douglass knew of his father was that he was
white.) During this time he was exposed to the degradations
of slavery, witnessing firsthand brutal whippings and
spending much time cold and hungry. When he was eight he was
sent to Baltimore to live with a ship carpenter named
Hugh Auld. There he learned to read and first heard the
words abolition and abolitionists. "Going to live at
Baltimore," Douglass would later say, "laid the foundation,
and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity."
Douglass spent seven relatively comfortable years in
Baltimore before being sent back to the country, where he
was hired out to a farm run by a notoriously brutal "slavebreaker"
named Edward Covey. And the treatment he received was
indeed brutal. Whipped daily and barely fed, Douglass was
"broken in body, soul, and spirit."
On January 1, 1836, Douglass made a resolution that he would
be free by the end of the year. He planned an escape. But
early in April he was jailed after his plan was discovered.
Two years later, while living in Baltimore and
working at a shipyard, Douglass would finally realize his
dream: he fled the city on September 3, 1838. Traveling by
train, then steamboat, then train, he arrived in New York
City the following day. Several weeks later he had settled
in New Bedford, Massachusetts, living with his newlywed
bride (whom he met in Baltimore and married in New York)
under his new name, Frederick Douglass.
Always striving to educate himself, Douglass continued his
reading. He joined various organizations in New Bedford,
including a black church. He attended Abolitionists'
meetings. He subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison's weekly
journal, the Liberator. In 1841, he saw Garrison
speak at the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society's annual meeting.
Douglass was inspired by the speaker, later stating, "no
face and form ever impressed me with such sentiments [the
hatred of slavery] as did those of William Lloyd Garrison."
Garrison, too, was impressed with Douglass, mentioning him
in the Liberator. Several days later Douglass gave
his speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's
annual convention in Nantucket-- the speech described at the
top of this page. Of the speech, one correspondent reported,
"Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his
eloquence." Before leaving the island, Douglass was
asked to become a lecturer for the Society for three years.
It was the launch of a career that would continue throughout
Douglass' long life.
Despite apprehensions that the information might endanger
his freedom, Douglass published his autobiography,
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American
Slave, Written By Himself. The year was 1845. Three
years later, after a speaking tour of England, Ireland, and
Scotland, Douglass published the first issue of the
North Star, a four-page weekly, out of Rochester,
Frederick Douglass would continue his active involvement to
better the lives of African Americans. He conferred with
Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and recruited
northern blacks for the Union Army. After the War he
fought for the rights of women and African Americans alike.