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Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)

Born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Frederick Douglass was determined by his early teens to escape his bondage, and in 1838, he fled northward to settle in Massachussetts. He soon joined the antislavery movement, and by the mid-1840s his commanding eloquence in offering firsthand testimony to the oppressions of slavery had transformed him into one of the movement’s most persuasive spokesmen. Recalling the figure that Douglass cut at abolitionist gatherings, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: “He stood there like an African prince . . . grand in his proportions, majestic in his wrath, as with keen wit, satire, and indignation he portrayed the bitterness of slavery.”

Douglass’s reforming zeal remained strong all his life. After the Civil War put an end to slavery, he continued to be a leading defender of the rights of African Americans in the era where all too often those rights were ignored.

This likeness bears a strong resemblance to the engraved portrait of Douglass that first appeared in the 1845 edition of his much- celebrated memoir of his life in slavery. It is not clear, however, whether the painted or the engraved likeness is the original.

Unidentified artist
Oil on canvas, 1844
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


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