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Frederick Douglass A Biography

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This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


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This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

30 review for Frederick Douglass A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Clay Davis

    A good biography that told the highlights of a great man.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Haspel

    Frederick Douglass’s extraordinary life receives a suitably inspiring exegesis in this fine, concise 1899 biography by the eminent author Charles W. Chesnutt – one great African American paying tribute to another. In his Preface for this biography, Chesnutt modestly writes that he “can claim no special qualification for this task, unless perhaps it be a profound and in some degree a personal sympathy with every step of Douglass’s upward career.” But I think that Chesnutt is being too modest here, Frederick Douglass’s extraordinary life receives a suitably inspiring exegesis in this fine, concise 1899 biography by the eminent author Charles W. Chesnutt – one great African American paying tribute to another. In his Preface for this biography, Chesnutt modestly writes that he “can claim no special qualification for this task, unless perhaps it be a profound and in some degree a personal sympathy with every step of Douglass’s upward career.” But I think that Chesnutt is being too modest here, for he was one of the major American writers of the 19th century. Born in Ohio, Chesnutt was taken as a child to his parents’ North Carolina homeland, and his perceptive observation of life in the South helped make him one of the most important writers of his time. His mixed-race background meant that he could have “passed for white,” had he wanted to, but Chesnutt identified proudly with his African-American heritage. His books were as diverse as The Conjure Woman (1899), a collection of folklore-inflected short stories, and The Marrow of Tradition (1901), a grimly realistic novel about the 1898 coup d’état through which white-supremacist conspirators seized control of the government of Wilmington, North Carolina – deposing, in the process, the multiracial and democratically elected leaders of what was then the state's largest city. In every way, Chesnutt was eminently well-qualified to tell the story of Frederick Douglass. Chesnutt’s admiration for Douglass’s life, work, and example comes through clearly throughout, as when he writes, near the beginning of Frederick Douglass: A Biography, that “Circumstances made Frederick Douglass a slave, but they could not prevent him from becoming a freeman and a leader among mankind.” In recounting Douglass's early life, Chesnutt emphasizes well the paradoxes inherent in the circumstances of Douglass’s birth and upbringing: “Douglass was born the slave of one Captain Aaron Anthony, a man of some consequence in eastern Maryland, the manager or chief clerk of one Colonel Lloyd, the head for that generation of an old, exceedingly wealthy, and highly honored family in Maryland, the possessor of a stately mansion and one of the largest and most fertile plantations in the State.” As a Marylander who has travelled extensively amongst the nine counties of my home state’s Eastern Shore – the part of Maryland east of Chesapeake Bay, where the plantation system was entrenched from early colonial times forward – I appreciated Chesnutt’s thoughtful and accurate reflections: all that well-known grace and elegance of estates like Edward Lloyd IV’s Wye Plantation were founded upon the cruelty and brutality of plantation slavery. It is moving to read Chesnutt’s reflections upon how slavery affected Douglass’s life from its very beginnings. When it comes to Douglass’s relative lack of contact with his mother early in his life, for example, Chesnutt writes that “It was always a matter of grief to [Douglass] that he did not know her better, and that he could not was one of the sins of slavery that he never forgave.” Readers who are already familiar with Douglass’s renowned autobiography, Narrative of the Life of an American Slave (1845), will recognize many familiar elements that resonate further in Chesnutt’s biography of Douglass. With regard to the time when Douglass was moved from the plantation slavery of the Eastern Shore to urban slavery in Baltimore, Chesnutt writes movingly of Douglass’s early efforts to educate himself, of slaveholder Sophia Auld’s initial encouragement of Douglass in that regard, and of slaveholder Hugh Auld’s resistance to those efforts: “The mere fact that his master wished to prevent [Douglass’s] learning made him all the more eager to acquire knowledge. In after years, even when most bitter in his denunciation of the palpable evils of slavery, Douglass always acknowledged the debt he owed to this good lady who innocently broke the laws and at the same time broke the chains that held a mind in bondage.” Chesnutt, a writer himself, places appropriate emphasis on the way in which Douglass’s determined efforts to gain intellectual freedom, by teaching himself to read and write, prefigured his successful gaining of actual, physical freedom from the bondage of slavery. He writes that Douglass “never forgot that God helps them that help themselves, and so never missed an opportunity to acquire the knowledge that would prepare him for freedom and give him the means to escape from slavery.” It is one of the most moving parts of Douglass’s Narrative, and Chesnutt captures its significance well: “Douglass’s desire to write grew mainly out of the fact that in order to escape from bondage, which he had early determined to do, he would probably need such a ‘pass,’ as this written permission was termed, and could write it himself if he but knew how.” The odds against the young Frederick Douglass were high; but “In time he learned to write, and thus again demonstrated the power of the mind to overleap the bounds that men set for it and work out the destiny to which God designs it.” The manner of Douglass’s ultimate escape from slavery is dramatic and inspiring: “He simply masqueraded as a sailor, borrowed a sailor’s ‘protection,’ or certificate that he belonged to the navy, took the train to Baltimore in the evening, and rode in the negro car until he reached New York City.” It is good that Chesnutt lets Douglass speak for himself regarding the significance of this decisive moment: “A new world had opened up to me. I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions. My chains were broken, and the victory brought me unspeakable joy.” For readers of Douglass’s Narrative, the story might seem to stop with Douglass’s escape; but Douglass took on a whole new life, in the Northern U.S.A. and in Europe, as an advocate for freedom worldwide. Chesnutt remarks how “Douglass’s style and vocabulary and logic improved so rapidly that people began to question his having been a slave.” Douglass wrote the Narrative in part to refute such accusations. His greatness as an orator was central to his work – “For, while his labors as editor and in other directions were of great value to the cause of freedom, it is upon his genius as an orator that his fame must ultimately rest.” While it does not provide the depth and level of detail of later biographies, like William S. McFeely’s Frederick Douglass (1990) and David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018), this fine little biography by an important American writer provides a good way for the reader to get a first impression of the life of a great American and great champion of human rights.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Violette

    Quick read on an important figure in American history. A great primer for deeper study. A life that helped to define America at a pivotal time in our history. A must read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy

    Even though this is an old book, 1935 about, I enjoyed it and learned more about Doughlass and the Abolition era. This author, however, did not mention anything about the work Douglass also did for Women and their right to vote. He worked hard to get black men the vote then lent his hand to the women's movement.For the oppression is the same. Even though this is an old book, 1935 about, I enjoyed it and learned more about Doughlass and the Abolition era. This author, however, did not mention anything about the work Douglass also did for Women and their right to vote. He worked hard to get black men the vote then lent his hand to the women's movement.For the oppression is the same.

  5. 4 out of 5

    JoRolle Nola

    Quick look into the life of the great Frederick Douglass.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Martin Smith

    Anaemically thin and heavily reliant on referring to other publications the author presumes the reader is familiar with.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    Good introduction to Frederick Douglass' life. Stands up well over a century since its first publication. Good introduction to Frederick Douglass' life. Stands up well over a century since its first publication.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Diane Runyan

    Story of a great orator This book follows the story of Douglass as a slave to his days as a great orator. He spoke not only for the fair treatment and freedom of Black Americans, but also for women.. very well written, and exceptionally well documented.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sam Motes

    A beautiful short biography on Douglass. It covers from early life in slavery , to a man man on the run from his past to the great orator compelling people from both races to join his cause to free his people. A very inspiring read. Especially as a free read on Kindle!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Barry bish

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kim

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dr. Julius

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paula

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Dey-Colvin

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adam Chambers

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nikolas

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Underwood

  19. 5 out of 5

    Guillaume

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Harry R

  22. 4 out of 5

    Astros1

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy Jemison

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert Waldo

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leighton

  26. 4 out of 5

    VICKI VIOLET

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rochelle

  28. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Goode

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brooke Anderson

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tammy Turner

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