Unknown Artist, American School
2 3/4 x 2 3/16 in. (7 x 5.6 cm)
The Rubel Collection, Partial and Promised Gift of William Rubel, 2001 (2001.756)
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.