Frederick Douglass : Prophet of Freedom
by David W. Blight


The definitive, dramatic biography of the most important African American of the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.  Read more...

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More About Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight

The definitive, dramatic biography of the most important African American of the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.

As a young man Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. He wrote three versions of his autobiography over the course of his lifetime and published his own newspaper. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.

Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, often to large crowds, using his own story to condemn slavery. He broke with Garrison to become a political abolitionist, a Republican, and eventually a Lincoln supporter. By the Civil War and during Reconstruction, Douglass became the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. He denounced the premature end of Reconstruction and the emerging Jim Crow era. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. He sometimes argued politically with younger African Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights.

In this remarkable biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass's newspapers. Blight tells the fascinating story of Douglass's two marriages and his complex extended family. Douglass was not only an astonishing man of words, but a thinker steeped in Biblical story and theology. There has not been a major biography of Douglass in a quarter century. David Blight's Frederick Douglass affords this important American the distinguished biography he deserves.

  • ISBN-13: 9781416590316
  • ISBN-10: 1416590315
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publish Date: October 2018
  • Page Count: 912
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Historical
Books > History > African American
Books > History > United States - 19th Century

BookPage Reviews

Frederick Douglass

BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, October 2018

Frederick Douglass was the most famous African-American of the 19th century, and his life story continues to inspire people around the world. An escaped slave who fled brutal treatment, he became a radical abolitionist, world-renowned author of three classic autobiographies, a noted journalist and editor, a public intellectual, one of the greatest orators of his time and a prominent government official. Yale historian David W. Blight brilliantly captures this legendary figure and his times in the magnificent Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, one of the best biographies of recent years. Blight’s portrait of Douglass is engrossing, moving, nuanced, frightening—and certainly thought-provoking.

Douglass is a complex figure, and he lived in a transformative time—from 1818 until 1895. His slave owner’s wife taught him to read before he escaped as a young man, and the only weapon he had against racism were words, both written and spoken. Extremely intelligent and ambitious, he thrilled and challenged audiences throughout the country and abroad with his oft-eloquent words. He frequently drew on his study of the Bible and was an Old Testament-like prophet himself, decrying the actions of not only slave owners but also other abolitionists with whom he disagreed. Douglass was both secular and religious, an advocate of self-reliance, deeply moralistic and yet pragmatic, a philosopher of democracy and natural rights.

Douglass’ turbulent life was full of pressures and controversy at each stage. He traveled widely and was frequently away from his dysfunctional family. His first wife, Anna, was largely illiterate, but she devoted her life to him and their five children during their 43 years of marriage. The need for money was a constant concern for Douglass, both to fund his newspapers and to help support his adult sons and son-in-law.

There are generous quotations from Douglass’ passionate speeches and writings woven throughout Blight’s biography. One of the many quotes that might best sum up Douglass’ lifelong work comes from a speech he gave in 1893: “Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, patriotism enough to live up to their Constitution.”


This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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