At some point in my academic life, I was assigned to read one of 19th-century writer, orator, and abolishionist Frederick Douglass's autobiographies, probably Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. It may have been as part of of an English course, as an example of the memoir genre. More likely, it was part of some grade's history curriculum, probably related to a unit on slavery. I think I read it? I do have some vague recollections of it. I remember I found the language's elevated tone difficult, but that was true for me of pretty much everything written before 1920. Also, I think I remember being a little confused as to why he was a slave in Maryland, a state I thought was a free state since it was part of the Union during the Civil War. But that is a whole other kettle of fish that I don't have the time to get into here, but it's fascinating reading if you're so inclined.
Other than that, I didn't really retain much, and I'm probably not unusual in that regard. Sure, Frederick Douglass is a name most American's know, but do we really know much beyond that? Doubtful, which is too bad because Frederick Douglass's life was eventful (duh) and fascinating (double duh). It's probably even more important for Marylanders to know about him, since he's one of us. He was born on the Eastern Shore in Talbot County in February 1818, and many of the pivotal events in his life occurred here before he escaped to freedom in the North when he was 20 years old.
I mention all this because the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels is celebrating Frederick Douglass Day tomorrow from 10 a.m.-4 p.m with a slew of programming that illuminates Douglass's life and also places it in historical and local context. There will be a genealogy workshop; tours of his sister, Eliza Mitchell's, house; a black waterman's exhibit; cooking demonstrations with African American Foodways Historian Michael Twitty; and readings by the winners of the Douglass Essay Contest. Plus, there will be the usual festival trappings: food, crafts, live music, and general merriment.
For much more on Frederick Douglass, including information about his years in Baltimore, check out his Wikipedia page. For an excellent example of his powerful rhetorical skills, check out this letter he wrote to one of his former masters in September 1848, 10 years after he escaped to freedom.
Here's just a taste:
"You may perhaps want to know how I like my present condition. I am free to say, I greatly prefer it to that which I occupied in Maryland. I am, however, by no means prejudiced against the State as such. Its geography, climate, fertility and products, are such as to make it a very desirable abode for any man; and but for the existence of slavery there, it is not impossible that I might again take up my abode in that State. It is not that I love Maryland less, but freedom more."
[Image of Frederick Douglass circa 1874 via WikiCommons]