Frederick Douglass did not know his date of birth beyond that he was born in February 1818. But he would choose today’s date, February 14, as the day to celebrate as his own birthday.
As young Frederick Bailey, a slave child on a plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland, he saw the horrors of slavery all too well. At the age of eight he was sent to live in Baltimore, where his new mistress taught him to read and write.
An intelligent young man, Frederick worked on the Baltimore waterfront, though his wages were paid to a white family. He somehow managed to get identification papers and a train ticket which took him to New York City and freedom. He took the name Frederick Douglass and began a new life, dedicating himself to ending the institution of slavery in America.
In the 1840s and 1850s Frederick Douglass became one of the most influential voices against slavery. He wrote his life story, traveled to England and Ireland to gather international support for the abolitionist cause, and spoke on stages across the northern states in America. During the Civil War he recruited African American soldiers to fight in the Union Army, and he later served the U.S. government as a diplomat.
One reason we celebrate Black History Month in February is because it is the month in which Frederick Douglass was born. And without the eloquent voice and brave spirit of Frederick Douglass, America, and the world, would be very different.
Photograph: Frederick Douglass/Library of Congress