Today is when we celebrate the bicentennial of abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s birth. Born into slavery, Douglass didn’t know his actual date of birth in 1818, so he chose Valentine’s Day. He escaped to freedom in 1838 and rose to become an author, orator, diplomat, businessman and adviser to President Abraham Lincoln.
As a young boy in Baltimore, Douglass learned the alphabet from the wife of his captor, Hugh Auld, over the objections of her husband. She helped spark his naturally curious mind, allowing him to free his intellect even before his body. As Douglass later stated, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
Douglass published “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” an autobiography that became a bestseller, also publishing the abolitionist newspaper, “The North Star” to inspire the drive for freedom.
Seeing how freedom is a universal need, in 1848, Douglass was the only African-American to attend Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, solidifying his support for women’s rights (he later married a suffragette). After the Civil War, Douglass served as president of the Reconstruction-era Freedman’s Savings Bank to help serve black Americans’ financial needs.
A confidant of Lincoln, the first Republican elected to the presidency, Douglass was a committed member of the GOP. “I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican,” Douglass said, “and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.” Since the Party Of Lincoln, Republicans have had a complicated history with black voters. Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s been encouraging to see recent improvements in the economic lives of black Americans.
Today, I would imagine that even if Douglass was still a Republican, he would be able to look beyond any partisan labels to simply pursue human innovation, growth and liberty. And regardless of today’s fractured political climate, Douglass would still be fighting to preserve human freedom. As Douglass said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”