The importance of Frederick Douglass—way beyond Black History Month
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Faculty Emeritus in Humanities, Austin College
Feb 9, 2024
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Henry H. Bucher, Jr.
In my last op-ed in North Texas e-News(February 1, 2024), I noted that long before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in January, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were both born in February. For that reason, February was chosen to be Black History Month. Most US citizens know much more about Lincoln than about Douglass, the most important leader of the movement for African US-American civil rights in the nineteenth century.


Frederick Douglas
Frederick Douglass was born in Maryland (February 14, 1817) where he escaped from slavery and played a key role in the abolition movement. Some records note that he was born a year earlier, but February 14 is most certain—his mother called him “My little Valentine.”


Douglass’ literary skills began when he began reading Bible verses under the supervision of his mother.* He is best known for three published pieces—the best known is “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”


He was known for his oratory skills and as a social reformer in the northeast of the USA. Many wondered how a freed slave could be such an accomplished orator and writer. Certainly, he must have graduated from an Historic Black College or University(HBCU)! A good guess would have been Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.**


After so many questions about his education, Frederick Douglass had a standard reply: “My only degree is forever written on my back!”


*It was illegal in most slave-owning states to teach slave children how to read and write; this did not include biblical education which encouraged resistance to the ruling powers in biblical times. Slavery may have lasted longer had reading the Bible been illegal!


**Founded as Ashmun Institute in 1854. Lincoln University was the first HBCU to offer a college degree.