1846: Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
Douglass launched an abolitionist newspaper, The North Star.
Born a slave in 1818, he escaped from slavery in 1938 by posing as a a free Black seaman on a train ride to the North and became an infamous speaker on the abolitionist lecture circuit and an important political figure. He served as president of Freedman's Saving's Bank during reconstruction. Douglass served as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and fought for the adoption of constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties for Blacks. Douglass was the only Black guest at Abe Lincoln's second inauguration. In 1872, he was the first African American to receive a nomination for Vice President of the United States. He was also United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for Washington, D.C., and Minister-General to the Republic of Haiti.
Douglass provided a powerful voice for human rights during this period of American history and is still revered today for his contributions against racial injustice.
He represents the extremes of the African American experience from a starved and beaten slave to adviser to the President. His story is one every American should know. Douglass wrote three autobiographies. Here is a fascinating read of Frederick Douglass' noteworthy life.
Frederick Douglass Quotes
"A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me."
"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence."
"America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future."
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."
1850: Underground Railroad
This transportation system was started by William Still. A network of secret routes, way stations, safe havens and meeting points in which thousands of African Americans escaped in the south. Some routes went as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico.
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
Harriet Ross was born into slavery in 1819 or 1820, in Dorchester County, Maryland. Given the names of her two parents, both held in slavery, she was of purely African ancestry. She was raised under harsh conditions, and subjected to whippings even as a small child. Tubman suffered epileptic seizures after an overseer threw a 2 lb weight at her head when she tried to prevent the capture of a run-away slave.
At the age of 25, she married John Tubman, a free African American. Five years later, fearing she would be sold South, she made her escape.
After freeing herself from slavery, Harriet Tubman returned to Maryland to rescue other members of her family and become one of the most celebrated and effective leaders of the Underground Railroad. In all she is believed to have conducted approximately 300 persons to freedom in the North. "She was never captured while rescuing slaves and as she was quoted she "never lost a passenger".
A U.S. Liberty Ship was named after her in WWII - the SS Harriet Tubman.
Harriet Tubman was reverently called "Moses" by the hundreds of slaves she helped to freedom and the thousands of others she inspired. Her life was a monument to courage and determination that continues to stand out in American history.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Sojourner Truth was born on the Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. Her given name was Isabella Baumfree (also spelled Bomefree). She was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, also slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation. She spoke only Dutch until she was sold from her family around the age of nine.
She was sold to John Neely, along with a herd of sheep, for $100. Neely's wife and family only spoke English and beat Isabella fiercely for the frequent miscommunications.
Truth became an abolitionist, preacher, advocate for women's rights and conductor of the Underground Railroad. Truth's son who was freed under New York law, was sold into slavery, she sued and won his return.
Sojourner Truth's famous "ain't I a woman" quote.
"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place, and ain't I a woman? ... I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me -- and ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear the lash as well -- and ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me -- and ain't I woman?"