"This freedom, this liberty,
this beautiful and terrible thing."
Frederick Douglass learned the value of literacy when he was still a young slave. His master became furious when he caught him learning his ABCs from the masterķs wife. Douglass overheard him say that literacy would make a slave discontented. ģFrom that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom,ī he later wrote. ģI set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost or trouble, to learn how to read.ī
He got poor white children to teach him words in exchange for bread. He read whatever he could find. When he turned 21, he escaped to New York, changed his name, and assumed the life of a free man, becoming a popular speaker on the abolitionist lecture circuit. Many claimed that such a brilliant orator could not have been a slave, so Douglass wrote his autobiography, which has become a classic of American literature.
At the age of 60, as Marshal of the District of Columbia, Douglass visited his old master in Maryland, who greeted him as ģMarshal Douglassī and appologized for his actions as a slaveholder. From slave to spokesman to distinguished citizen, Frederick Douglass fought for the freedom of his people.