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Frederick Douglass in Full

by Bill Hayes

In Frederick Douglass in Full for the New York Times Book Review, Brent Staples reviews Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight.

The alchemy that transformed an unknown fugitive slave named Frederick Douglass into one of the most celebrated orators and political theorists in the world finished its work with astonishing speed. Douglass was just 20 years old when, on Sept. 3, 1838, he dressed up as a sailor and stole out of Baltimore carrying borrowed freedom documents. He and his wife — a free black Marylander who had aided the escape — fled to New Bedford, Mass., where Douglass was recruited to the abolitionist movement while honing his oratory at a local church.

As the historian David W. Blight shows in his cinematic and deeply engaging “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison were smitten with Douglass, instantly recognizing the value of a recruit just out of chains whose eloquence refuted the claim that Negroes were inferior and who could condemn slavery as immoral by drawing on America’s founding documents as well as his own bitter experience under the lash. [more]