Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is the book by David Blight that inspired an exhibition, 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.
Prophet of Freedom is also the cornerstone text for a new free 10-week online course - Spotlight Series: Frederick Douglass and "A Composite Nation" - designed exclusively for Members that uncovers themes in the Museum's collections, exhibitions, and speaker programs, offering a unique learning experience. The first series will examine Frederick Douglass’ “Composite Nation” speech and tap into the rich collections and exhibitions of New-York Historical for more context and insight. You can learn more here or join as a Member to take advantage of a limited time membership and book combo offer here.
- 6.2 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
- 912 pages
- by David W Blight
From February 11, 2022, Our Composite Nation: Frederick Douglass' America shines a light on the late 1860s—at a moment of great hope for the promise of equality under the law. The famed orator and once-enslaved abolitionist Frederick Douglass took his “Our Composite Nation” speech on the road to argue for a plural American democracy. The mission of this new nation, he declared, was to provide the world “a composite, perfect illustration of the unity of the human family.” For what was the U.S., he said, but “the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world?” This special installation features artifacts, images, and a theatrical design that bring Douglass’ compelling speech to life and explores his vision of freedom, citizenship, and equal rights that remains urgently relevant today, as a hopeful plea for America to live up to its founding ideals.