Book Habit Blog - Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

by David W. Blight

“This is a biography of voice,” writes Blight.  The voice is that of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), a remarkable and compelling American prophet.  Douglass was born a slave in Maryland, became a fugitive at the age of 20, lived in fear in Massachusetts and Upstate New York for eight years, learning and growing intellectually.  An accomplished writer and orator by his late twenties, he journeyed as a fugitive slave to the British Isles, whereupon his freedom was purchased in 1846 by British abolitionists.  He returned to America a free man, exhausting his remaining life in the blistering cause of slavery abolition and justice for Black Americans and, to a lesser but important extent, women’s rights.

David Blight, an award-winning Yale historian, has created this meticulously researched human drama, in his accustomed style of readability.  Augmenting his fresh look at America’s antebellum era, war and transformation from slavery to constitutional freedom, Blight adds needed Reconstruction Era-context from Douglass’s perspective, using previously neglected archives.  Blight weaves within the remarkable tapestry of Douglass’s entire life the Douglass wives and consorts and family, his slavers and mentors, and the oratorical inspiration of his biblical models of protest and condemnation (i.e., Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel).

If you are unfamiliar with Douglass-as-person and should wish only to ‘sip nectar’ of this great man’s fevered relation to societal injustices and his impassioned abolitionism, then read as a primer Douglass’s inspiring transcript of his rhetorical masterpiece,” What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July, delivered to the Ladies Antislavery Society of Rochester on July 25, 1852, available on the internet. 

But, instead, should you wish to dive directly into the turbulent, racial upheavals of the 19th-century and  ‘swim luxuriant’ in an exhaustive, monumental, definitive biography of Douglass, the inspired crusader’s voice against slavery, then David Blight’s book is a must read.

--Jim Scott