Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

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“Slavery is indeed gone, but its long, black shadow yet falls broad and large over the face of the whole country.”

There are few that truly encapsulate what it means to be a self-made man. Frederick Douglass, however, is one of those few. Born a slave, Douglass was separated at an early age from his mother and later, his grandmother; he never knew his father. At 12, he was sent to serve Hugh Auld and his wife, Sophia Auld. While Sophia began to teach Douglass the alphabet, her husband was against him learning anything, lest he want his freedom. Still, Douglass was passionate about learning. He taught himself how to read and write in secret. In his autobiography, he mentions learning how to write by watching white men write and learning to read from other children as well.

Later on, Douglass was sent to serve a more violent man named Edward Covey. Covey would whip Douglass, not even giving him time to heal. The violence shown Douglass eventually led to an altercation that Douglass won – Covey would never try to beat him again. Douglass tried to escape multiple times, each one ending in failure until a successful attempt on September 3rd, 1838. It took him just under a day to go from being a slave to being a free man. It was after he found freedom and settling in that he landed on the surname Douglass (suggested by a friend, Nathan Johnson, who got it from the poem The Lady in the Lake by Walter Scott).

When Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was released, people could hardly believe that a slave could write so well. However, it was critically acclaimed. It is one of the most influential pieces of American & abolitionist literature, one that opened countless doors to Douglass to establish himself as a gifted writer & orator for years to come.

You can buy a copy of the book here. If you want a fuller picture of Douglass’s works, this Library of America edition is a great start.