Though he really didn’t like to talk about it much,
Frederick Douglass had been through things that were
unimaginable. From the moment he was born into slavery, he
was taken from his mother, who died when Frederick was
small. At age six, his owner removed him from his
grandparents’ farm to a plantation house; there, he slept on
the floor of a closet. He was hired out to a slavemaster who
beat him for no reason at all, and he worked as a
shipbuilder before escaping from bondage.
Douglass didn’t like to talk about his life – but he had to.
As a young man, he gained recognition as an orator and
newspaper publisher, but people thought he was a “fake.” He
grew awfully sick of that and so he wrote a book, to great
acclaim, though doing so was dangerous: Douglass used
several aliases in his anti-slavery activism, and his book
finally laid bare the whole truth. Finding safety in Great
Britain, he became a celebrity there, and met some men who
further influenced his life and his work.
Following his time in Great Britain, he returned to America
and started an anti-slavery newspaper with donations he’d
received while overseas. The paper faltered later because
Douglass “miscalculated,” but that setback didn’t cause him
to lose sight of his goal; in fact, it strengthened his
anti-slavery ideals. He and his family became conductors on
the Underground Railroad, moving people up through New
England into Canada.
“With the outbreak of the Civil War,” says Bolden,
“Frederick’s hopes soared.”
But he still wasn’t happy: Black soldiers weren’t allowed to
do their part in the War, and Douglass wanted that changed.
Finally, on August 10, 1863, he went to the White House. The
man who was once a little boy who slept on the floor of a
closet had an appointment with President Lincoln….
Filled with excerpts from diaries, newspaper articles, bits
of speeches, and reproductions of photographs, “Facing
Frederick” is a great book with a powerful story.
Getting the full extent from of it, I think, will depend on
the age of its reader.
Because it wouldn’t be the same biography without dates and
accounts of Douglass’ travels and actions, there’s a lot in
here and this book can be hard-to-follow. Older kids on a
10-to-14-year-old spectrum shouldn’t have any problem with
it; it’s lively enough between the dates-and-facts to keep
that age group’s attention. Kids on the younger side may
struggle with too many facts.
Even so, let them try. “Facing Frederick,” published in
honor of the 200th anniversary of Douglass’
birthday, is a big story that’s too important to miss. They
may not be able to put it down.