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Reading 4: The End of a Journey
While Douglass was living in New Bedford, his advocacy work sent him throughout the Northeast, even abroad to Great Britain, to speak. In 1847, he moved to Rochester, New York to further pursue his abolitionist efforts. At the time, Rochester was known as a hotspot for reformers. Douglass founded the newspaper The North Star which advocated full rights for all, and he became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. In 1848, Douglass would participate in the famous Seneca Falls convention, a meeting that called for women's equality before the law. He would continue to advocate for women's equality throughout his life.
The Civil War did not end Douglass's work. During the war, he continued to advocate for freedom and equality:
The war did not accomplish that unity, so Douglass continued to fight until the end of his life. He said, "Verily, the work does not end with the abolition of slavery, but only begins." 2
After the Civil War, Frederick Douglass moved to Washington, DC, in the early 1870s. He first settled in Capitol Hill, in the southeast of the district. In 1877, Douglass purchased his final home, Cedar Hill, in Anacostia, also in the southeast of the district. When Douglass bought the property, it originally took up 9 ¾ acres of land. In 1878, he purchased an additional 5 ¾ acres. A newspaper described his house in the following way:
Cedar Hill became the headquarters for Douglass's advocacy work. It was also the final home for both himself and his first wife Anna who passed away in 1882. In 1884, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white women's rights activist and the daughter of abolitionists. Douglass ran and owned the New National Era, a paper "devoted to the defence [sic] and enlightenment of the newly emancipated and enfranchised people." 4 He continued to speak publicly for the civil rights of all Americans. In 1886, Douglass gave the following speech on the 24th anniversary of emancipation in Washington, DC:
Douglass became the first African American appointed to various positions in the government (marshal, recorder of deeds, and minister). Despite the legal recognition given to African American men, Douglass continued to face prejudice based on his race. He wrote about the reaction to his appointment as a U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia:
Douglass did not allow prejudice to hold him back. He continued speaking out until the day of his death. The New York Times wrote the following in his obituary, "Mr. Douglass, perhaps more than any other man of his race, was instrumental in advancing the work of banishing the color line." 7
Douglass's tireless work to help people regardless of their race or gender makes him one of the most important figures of the nineteenth century.
Questions for Reading 4
1. Why was Rochester a significant place for Douglass to live? What important events took place there?
2. When did Douglass move to Washington, DC? When did he move into Cedar Hill? Does the newspaper description of his house surprise you? Why or why not? Why do you think the author chose to talk about Douglass's library?
3. What does the response to Douglass's appointment as a U.S. Marshal say about the perception of African Americans in the United States after the Civil War? Does this reaction seem right? Why or why not?
4. Did Douglass think abolition would fix the challenges African Americans faced? What problems would there be after slavery was abolished? Why?
5. Do you think Douglass was one of the great men of the nineteenth century, white or black? Why or why not?
Reading 4 was compiled from the National Park Service, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site website and Virtual Museum Exhibit; "Frederick Douglass," Civil War Trust; "Death of Frederick Douglass," New York Times, February 21, 1895; Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: 1817-1882 (London: Christian Age Office, 1882); John Blassingame, et al, eds. The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series One-Speeches, Debates, and Interviews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979); Philip Foner, ed. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 4 (New York: International Pub., 1950).
1 "Emancipation, Racism, and the Work Before Us," December 4, 1863, Annual Meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Blassingame, John, et al, eds. The Frederick Douglass papers: Series One—Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, Vol. 3 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 598.