Becoming Frederick Douglass

The Sermonic Voice of Frederick Douglass


Plate 2.2: Unknown artist, c. 1845 Frontispiece for Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) Author’s Collection

“ …The slaveholding ministers preach up the divine right of the slaveholders to property in their fellow-men. The southern preachers say to the poor slave, ‘Oh! if you wish to be happy in time, happy in eternity, you must be obedient to your masters; their interest is yours. God made one portion of men to do the working, and another to do the thinking; how good God is! Now, you have no trouble or anxiety; but oh! you can’t imagine how perplexing it is to your masters and mistresses to have so much thinking to do in your behalf! You cannot appreciate your blessings; you know not how happy a thing it is for you, that you were born of that portion of the human family which has the working, instead of the thinking to do! Oh! how grateful and obedient you ought to be to your masters! How beautiful are the arrangements of Providence! Look at your hard, horny hands —see how nicely they are adapted to the labor you have to perform! Look at our delicate fingers, so exactly fitted for our station, and see how manifest it is that God designed us to be His thinkers, and you the workers—Oh! the wisdom of God!”

–“The Church and Prejudice” (December 23, 1841)





Likely the first major convention that Frederick Douglass played an active role in conducting its affairs, the location of the 1843 National Convention of Colored Citizens in Buffalo, New York was convenient for Frederick Douglass to attend. He is listed as a delegate from Boston, Massachusetts. Recorded in the convention’s minutes is Douglass’ opposition to other delegates, especially Henry Highland Garnet, on matters of importance. The controversy of Garnet’s “Address to the Slaves of the United States” has brought much critical attention to this convention, considering Douglass’ rebuttal. He believed that “there was too much physical force” in Garnett’s message, and “[Douglass] was for trying the moral means a little longer” (Convention Minutes, p. 13). Therefore, this part of the exhibit examines Douglass’ use of a humble, sermonic oratory style around the time of the 1843 convention, which contrasts to later speeches he would deliver as more a radical activist.


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: Carlton McGrone, Hannah O’Neil, and Fallon Pieries from Dr. Johnson’s ENG 473: Studies in African American Literature—“Frederick Douglass” (Spring 2019)