Becoming Frederick Douglass

Douglass the Celebrity


“O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder…The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

–“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852)

As an activist and author, Frederick Douglass takes center stage at the 1853 National Convention of the Free People of Color held in his hometown of Rochester, New York on July 6th-8th. His rising statue in the literary world is notable given his publication of The Heroic Slave (1853), a novella based on a slave insurrection, the only such work of fiction Douglass is known to have written. By this time, Douglass also had formed close relations with other famous abolitionists, namely Harriet Beecher Stowe following the publication of her international bestselling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Douglass would use his own celebrity to bring even more attention to the conditions of free Black citizens and those enslaved African Americans in the U.S. by evolving as a man of words and might advocating political abolitionism. While his split with William Lloyd Garrison was inevitable, Douglass emerged as a formidable “race man.”


Curators: Dr. Sherita L. Johnson, Associate Professor of English at The University of Southern Mississippi, with Kayla Schreiber, PhD student in English. Created for Dr. Johnson’s undergraduate class ENG 473: Studies in African American Literature—“Frederick Douglass” (Spring 2019)

Undergraduate Researchers: Hayden Nowell, Miranda Loper, and Emma Holdbrooks from Dr. Johnson’s ENG 473: Studies in African American Literature—“Frederick Douglass” (Spring 2019)