Frederick Douglass became the first nationally known African American in United States history by turning his life into a testimony on the evils of slavery and the redemptive power of freedom. He had escaped from slavery in 1838 and subsequently became a powerful witness for abolitionism, speaking, writing, and organizing on behalf of the movement; he also founded a newspaper, the North Star.
Douglass’s charisma derived from his ability to present himself as the author of his own destiny at a time when white America could barely conceive of the black man as a thinking and feeling human being. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is not only a gripping nonfiction account of one man’s struggle for freedom; it is also one of the greatest American autobiographies. This powerful portrait shows Douglass as he grew in prominence during the 1840s.
Rose Weiss and Braden Paynter of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., recently discussed Douglass at a Face-to-Face portrait talk.
Listen to a Face-to-Face talk on Frederick Douglass (18:47)
Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next talk is this Thursday, February 25, when L. Michael Seidman, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, speaks about Justice Thurgood Marshall. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Frederick Douglass / Unidentified artist / Oil on canvas, c. 1844 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution