Frederick Douglass: To the Plantation Born

Article excerpt

PRODUCER Orlando Bagwell has chosen an unlikely starting point for his biography of Frederick Douglass: He has started at the beginning.

No preamble about Douglass the man, he who was born in slavery and yet managed to become a confidant to presidents. Instead, he launches directly into Douglass' story with ruminations on his birthday, a date that often eluded slaves and had indeed escaped Douglass.

"I think I started with his preoccupation with his birthday because he was very interested in creating a record for people he felt were forgotten in America," said Bagwell, "and he was one of them. He often said that no matter what he did, how many presidents he met, how many lectures he gave or articles he wrote, people would always see him as a slave."

So determining his place in time was as important to Douglass as his place in history. Finally he settled on a month and year of his birth.

Records uncovered after his death proved he was wrong.

Bagwell sorts out the rest of the remarkable Douglass saga in "Frederick Douglass: When the Lion Wrote History," a 90-minute piece airing at 8 tonight on Channel 9.

"It's the first in-depth documentary on Douglass," he said. "It's hard to believe. Smaller pieces have been done for the Park Service" as part of historical exhibits. "For 90 minutes, it's impossible to adequately handle a life like his. I hope it inspires a lot of interest and appreciation of the man and the period he lived in.

"It was probably the most important period in American history, one where America changed the most, and he was in the center of it. …