Abolitionist, orator, writer, and a great example of a Black male ally, Frederick Douglass was a pioneer in advocating for racial and gender equality during the late 19th century. Born into bondage, Frederick Douglass later wrote of his childhood, growing up into the dehumanizing and violent culture of slavery. Speculated to be born of a White slaveowner raping his mother, Douglass’s traumatic early childhood sparked his desire to become a free man. Frederick Douglass was a figure of resistance, from his large kinky fro to his daily actions, constantly challenging white supremacy and the institution of slavery. He learned how to read and write, despite strict laws prohibiting Black people from receiving an education, and escaped slavery by around the age of 20 (Douglass never knew his exact age). Douglass moved to New York, where he soon became known as an intellectual for his resistance.
By 1841, Douglass had joined an abolitionist movement as a public speaker, his brilliant oratorical skills gave him a platform at the American Anti-Slavery Society. Between 1845 and 1847, Douglass published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and an abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, establishing himself as an icon in African American literature in the 19th century. (A must-read for anyone interested in the persuasive writing of Douglass’s slave narrative).
By 1848, Douglass was invited to the First Women’s Rights Convention where he showed commitment to the women’s suffrage movement. Shortly after the convention, he wrote, “We hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man […] right is of no sex, truth is of no color.” Douglass continued his work and joined Black women activists such as Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist who delivered the famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech highlighting the hypocrisy of the women’s suffrage movement and exclusion of Black women.
Douglass continued his work into the Civil War and influenced Black men to enlist to fight for the freedom of enslaved Black people. Douglass worked to persuade both President Lincoln and President Johnson to extend suffrage to all. In fact, Douglass was very critical of Lincoln when he did not publicly endorse black suffrage. During Reconstruction, Douglass held several political positions and became the first Black vice presidential nominee of the United States (although he was unknowingly nominated and never campaigned). Overall, Frederick Douglass’s life and contributions make him a symbol of allyship and mark him as one of Black Americans’ greatest ancestors.
CHARDONNAY MADKINS is a womanist and activist serving the Los Angeles area. She received her Bachelor's of Arts degree in Psychology and Urban & Environmental Policy from Occidental College. As one of the few black women leaders on Occidental's campus, Chardonnay Madkins played a prominent role in the institution's Black Student Alliance and also co-founded the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, where she shed light on issues involving survivors of color and mobilized students and faculty to demand administrators appropriately handle sexual assault cases. She dedicates her time advocating specifically for Black survivors and changing policies around sexual assault. She maintains a passion for knowledge and aspires to continue her education of human rights and womanist politics in order to give voice to the voiceless.
You can reach Chardonnay at firstname.lastname@example.org