Frederick
Douglass, a slave in America until the age of 20, wrote three
of the most highly regarded autobiographies of the 19th
century, yet he only began learning to read and write when he
turned 12 years old. After an early life of hardship and pain,
Douglass escaped to the North to write three
autobiographies, spaced decades apart, about his life as a
slave and a freeman. The institution of slavery scarred him so
deeply that he decided to dedicate his powers of speech and
prose to fighting it. Douglass wrote three biographies about
his life as a politician, slave, and abolitionist. However, the
historical value of these works does not remain as important
as the quality of the works themselves. Frederick Douglass’s
writing deserves recognition in the canon of great American
authors, because his work meets the chosen criteria for
inclusion in a collection of important literature. Douglass
influenced many famous abolitionists with his literary works,
and this impact, coupled with his desire to write an expose
about oppression in America, makes him a winning candidate.
Although his published works, mostly autobiographies,
received much acclaim from abolitionists, this paper explores
the quality of Douglass’s work from a literary standpoint. This
paper also details the events shaping Douglass’s impressive
life and writing career. By examining the prestigious “life and
times” of this black author, the reader will recognize the
widespread influence of Douglass’s writing on other
antislavery writers, politics, and hence, the public. In a look at
his first and greatest work, Narrative of the Life, the following
paper will demonstrate why Frederick Douglass deserves a
place in the hall of great American writers. To fully appreciate
the impact of Douglass’s autobiographies, we must examine
violent period in which he lived. Douglass, born in 1818, grew
up as a slave on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation in eastern
Maryland. At the time, abolitionist movements started gaining
speed as popular parties in the North. In the North,
pro-slavery white mobs attacked black communities in
retaliation for their efforts. By the time Douglass escaped from
slavery, in 1838, tensions ran high among abolitionists and
slaveowners. Slaves published accounts of their harrowing
escapes, and their lives in slavery, mainly with the help of
ghostwriters. Although abolitionists called for the total
elimination of slavery in the South, racial segregation still
occurred all over the United States. Blacks, freemen
especially, found the task of finding a decent job
overwhelming. White workers often did not want to work with
blacks. The Fugitive Slave Law, passed in 1850, allowed
slaveowners to hunt the North for their escaped property.
Under Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scot decision condoning
the law as constitutional, a slave’s rights as a citizen became
invalid because of the property clause. Reclaiming “stolen”
property also lent itself to certain abuses. Slavehunters often
kidnapped freed blacks under the premise of the law.
However, the growing abolitionist movement provided room,
board, and often the means for escape to hundreds of slaves.
In contrast to the abolitionists, many blacks such as Garnet
and Delany advocated a mass migration back to Africa. The
Civil War became the ultimate debate for slavery, but not
segregation. After the war in 1865, “black codes” still kept
blacks from owning property, and therefore they became
virtual slaves to their white employers. The KKK arose from
the southern hatred and mistrust of blacks, terrorizing
neighborhoods and lynching “uppity” blacks. Stormy times still
lay ahead for blacks, and many aging abolitionists retired from
their quests. A few blacks entered politics, but never enough
to form a solid voting bloc in state or federal legislatures. The
age of passive resistance and civil rights appeals
approached. From a young age, Douglass fought for the
freedom, and later rights, of his fellow blacks, and never saw
the desired equality between races. Frederick Douglass’s
background deserves recognition, because his background
served as the basis for his autobiographies. The material
contained in them represents the time in which he lived, and
also his reactions and observations of the period. To
understand why Douglass’s autobiographies merit reading,
we need to examine his life and crusade against slavery in
history, not just prose. Born in 1818, Douglass’s grandmother
care for him until he reached working age. Then began one of
the worst experiences