Frederick Douglass: America's Prophet

Frederick Douglass: America's Prophet

Frederick Douglass: America's Prophet

Frederick Douglass: America's Prophet


From his enslavement to freedom, Frederick Douglass was one of America's most extraordinary champions of liberty and equality. Throughout his long life, Douglass was also a man of profound religious conviction. In this concise and original biography, D. H. Dilbeck offers a provocative interpretation of Douglass's life through the lens of his faith. In an era when the role of religion in public life is as contentious as ever, Dilbeck provides essential new perspective on Douglass's place in American history.

Douglass came to faith as a teenager among African American Methodists in Baltimore. For the rest of his life, he adhered to a distinctly prophetic Christianity. Imitating the ancient Hebrew prophets and Jesus Christ, Douglass boldly condemned evil and oppression, especially when committed by the powerful. Dilbeck shows how Douglass's prophetic Christianity provia's Prophet," Douglass exposed his nation's moral failures and hypocrisies in the hopes of creating a more just society. He admonished his fellow Americans to truly abide by the political and religious ideals they professed to hold most dear. Two hundred years after his birth, Douglass's prophetic voice remains as timely as ever.


On 5 July 1852, in the stately Corinthian Hall of Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass shouldered a heavy burden as he ascended the speaker’s platform and looked out on his audience. the burden was by now a familiar one to Douglass. He had grown accustomed to feeling it acutely each July as Americans celebrated their national independence. Douglass had accepted an invitation from the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society to take part in their Fourth of July celebrations. On 5 July, well over 500 people gathered at Corinthian Hall to hear Douglass deliver the day’s keynote address. Although only thirty-four years old, he was America’s most famous abolitionist orator, and the chance to hear him speak that day was well worth the 12½-cent price of admission.

Fourteen summers earlier, Douglass had escaped from slavery in his native Maryland. He knew well the cruelty of the institution he now made a living denouncing. Not long after settling as a fugitive in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass won the attention of the state’s abolitionist leaders, who, after hearing him retell his harrowing life story, offered him a paid position on the antislavery lecture circuit. Douglass made hundreds of speeches over the next decade, routinely evoking the horrors of his captivity and ridiculing the defenders of slavery.

But his oration on 5 July 1852 was different. That day, amid boisterous celebrations of American independence, he delivered the greatest speech of his life. Douglass spoke as a man born into bondage in America more than forty years after the Declaration of Independence had proclaimed that all men were equal and endowed by God with liberty. the burden Douglass felt on 5 July 1852 was to speak a word of truth about America in the irony-ridden . . .

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