This exhibit illustrates Frederick Douglass’ transformation from a fugitive slave to an abolitionist orator and activist from around 1841 to 1855. This period is foundational to the launch of his decades-long career, beginning a couple years before the publication of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), which made him famous, to the publication of his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), which, by this time, confirms his status as the leading African American public intellectual and civil rights activist of the nineteenth century. To examine his pivotal role in the Colored Conventions movement, the exhibit features five key components:

  • Douglass’ travels during the Colored Conventions movement; focusing primarily on the Northeast region
  • Douglass’ interactions with other prominent figures in the Colored Conventions movement
  • Douglass’ oratory (as recorded in the minutes of the Colored Conventions
  • Douglass’ audience appeal (predominately Black male delegates compared to integrated groups), highlighting speeches at / around the time of the conventions
  • Archival portraits of Douglass at time of the conventions

Just how Douglass constructed his public image with his activism in the abolitionist movement is well-documented. However, with the Becoming Frederick Douglass exhibit, it is possible to discover the ways Douglass entered the public sphere as a novice among other Black leaders over a decade after the conventions movement began, and how he was transformed by its organizational methods. Archival materials used in this exhibit further highlight Douglass’ public life in American print culture.