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Douglass, Frederick  

James Sellman

Frederick Douglass was more than a great African American leader. He was, in the words of his biographer William S. McFeely, “one of the giants of nineteenth-century America.” He was a man driven by his anger at injustice, McFeely observed, a man who “never ran away from anything”—except the bondage of slavery. Even in that, he took flight not simply to escape but to engage. After gaining his freedom, the former slave turned in his tracks and confronted the institution head-on.

Douglass played a prominent role in nineteenth-century reform movements, not only through his abolitionism but also in his support for women's rights and black suffrage. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he stayed true to his principles, remaining steadfast in his commitment to integration and civil rights. Douglass was militant but never a separatist. He rejected the nationalist rhetoric and latter-day conservatism of black abolitionist Martin Robison Delany ...

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Douglass, Frederick  

Roy E. Finkenbine

abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unidentified white man. Although a slave, he spent the first six years of his life in the cabin of his maternal grandparents, with only a few stolen nighttime visits by his mother. His real introduction to bondage came in 1824, when he was brought to the nearby wheat plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. Two years later he was sent to Baltimore to labor in the household of Hugh and Sophia Auld, where he remained for the next seven years. In spite of laws against slave literacy, Frederick secretly taught himself to read and write He began studying discarded newspapers and learned of the growing national debate over slavery And he attended local free black churches and found ...

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Pleasant, Mary Ellen  

Lynn Hudson

Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, probably sometime in 1852. For the next fifty years, she worked as cook, accountant, abolitionist, and entrepreneur in the bustling town on the bay. Histories of the West describe her as madam, voodoo queen, and prostitute. Pleasant herself requested that the words “she was a friend of John Brown’s” be printed on her gravestone, indicating her own desire to be remembered as an abolitionist. She was the target of what one historian has called an “avid conspiracy” that sought to silence her, and it was said that she harbored the skeletons of San Francisco’s elite in her closet.

The folklore about Pleasant reveals conflicting stories of her background (some say she was from Georgia, others Virginia), but Pleasant herself claimed she was born in Philadelphia She described her mother as a free colored woman and her ...