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African-American History Month: Happy Birthday, Frederick Douglass!

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This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, and this month is African-American History Month. To celebrate, we are highlighting favorite items from the Library’s collections. This post is reprinted from “Building Black History,” the January–February issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, available in its entirety online.


This 1881 lithograph, “Heroes of the Colored Race,” depicts prominent African-American leaders of the second half of the 19th century. Flanking Douglass in the center are Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram Revels, the only two African-Americans to serve as U.S. senators in the 19th century. The trio is surrounded by other prominent figures, including Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and scenes of African-American life. Prints and Photographs Division

In 1847, Douglass founded the North Star newspaper, proclaiming as its motto “Right is of no sex—truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and all we are brethren.” Douglass’ ability as an editor and publisher, a contemporary African-American journalist said, did more for the “freedom and elevation of his race than all his platform appearances.” Serial and Government Publications Division

In 1848, Douglass befriended abolitionist John Brown, who later planned an ambitious scheme to free the slaves. Douglass declined to join Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, but federal marshals nevertheless issued an arrest warrant for Douglass as an accomplice. He eventually was exonerated. In 1860, Douglass wrote this lecture, shown here in draft form, as a tribute to Brown, “a hero and martyr in the cause of liberty.” Manuscript Division

During the Civil War, Douglass recruited African-American troops for the Union. Among his recruits were sons Charles and Lewis, who enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts regiment. In this letter of July 6, 1863, Charles writes his father from Camp Meigs, relating a near-fight with an Irishman and rejoicing over “the news that Meade had whipped the rebels” at Gettysburg. Manuscript Division

In this handwritten draft of his memoirs, Douglass describes his escape from slavery. Douglass had been unable to include precise details about the method he used to escape from slavery in his earlier narratives, published before emancipation. He did so in this last version of his life story, “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” which was published in 1881. Manuscript Division


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