Born into slavery, the son of a white man and a black slave woman, Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) escaped his bondage in 1838 and became the most persuasive orator for the cause of abolition. Prompted to write his autobiography in 1845 by the doubts of those who argued that no one so articulate and well spoken could have been a slave, Douglass was forced by his own admissions to leave the country until funds could be raised to legally buy the freedom he had already seized by wit and will. He returned to the United States in 1847 and established a newspaper, North Star, which he edited for seventeen years. He traveled and lectured extensively before and during the Civil War, "thundering against slavery," in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois. Although the photographer is unknown, this majestic portrait reveals a man whose dignified posture, forceful gaze, and determined expression, along with the passion and eloquence of his words, proved the merits of his cause.
Hermine B. Rubel; William Rubel
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. "Facing the Light: Historic American Portrait Daguerreotypes," Friday, September 22, 1978 - Monday, January 15, 1979.
Crocker Art Museum. "Masterworks of Photography from the Rubel Collection," January 9, 1982–February 21, 1982.
Achenbach Graphic Arts Council. "Masterworks of Photography from the Rubel Collection," January 1, 1984–February 1, 1984.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Inventing a New Art: Early Photographs from the Rubel Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1, 1999–September 19, 1999.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Portraits: A Century of Photographs," September 10, 2002–January 13, 2003.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Old Faces and Places: American Photographs, 1845-1870," February 3, 2004–April 25, 2004.
New Bedford Whaling Museum. "Freedom and Bondage: Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville in New Bedford," May 1, 2005–October 1, 2005.
Pfister, Harold Francis. Facing the Light: Historic American Portrait Daguerreotypes. Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1978. no. 105.
Thackrey, Sean. Masterworks of Photography from the Rubel Collection. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum, 1982. pl. 30.
Rosenblum, Naomi. A World History of Photography. 1st ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984. no. 50.
Majestic in His Wrath: A Pictorial Life of Frederick Douglass. Washington: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1995. p. x.