Eye on History ; Social Reformer, Orator Fought for the Freedom of Slaves

Article excerpt

" A gitate! Agitate! Agitate!" These were the words of Frederick Douglass. He believed strongly that blacks had to unwaveringly struggle for equal rights. "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." With this determination, Douglass spoke out against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He became one of the most renowned orators and journalists in the fight against enslavement.

Douglass was born into slavery in 1817, near Tuckahoe, Md. He adopted Feb. 14 as his birthday because his mother used to call him her "little valentine." He was mistreated during slavery, and tried to escape. He was sent to a "slave breaker," who whipped him without mercy. Douglass fought back. He successfully escaped on his third try, with assistance from a free black woman named Anna Murray, whom he met in Baltimore. The two later married.

Douglass began reading anti-slavery papers and attending meetings with abolitionists. He became a speaker and quickly earned a reputation of being able to move an audience with his powerful words and descriptions of the horrors of slavery. He wrote "A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," which detailed the inhumane treatment of slaves. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, Douglass responded with strong words. He wrote that the true remedy to this law was "a good revolver, a steady hand and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap."

Abolitionists nicknamed the act the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track runaway slaves. Slave catchers were also given the right to search private homes and return fugitives. This harsh law sent thousands of escaped slaves fleeing to Canada. They risked beatings and death, and traveled until they were emaciated. Their goal was to reach the Niagara Frontier and cross the border to Canada.

Prior to becoming president, Millard Fillmore practiced law in East Aurora and took a stand against slavery, defending escaped slaves. …