Frederick Douglass (National Archives)
During the 19th century, the great civil rights leader Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was a celebrated orator, editor, and writer. His bestselling 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, published when he was 27 years old, made his reputation and remains his mostly widely read work. But Douglass would continue to tell his life story over the next five decades, as autobiography was central to his political efforts and to wrestling with the complexities of his identity as a Black man in the United States.
Join Douglass scholar and Distinguished University Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, Robert S. Levine as he focuses on Douglass the autobiographer and considers the significant changes and additions he made to his later autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, 1891–92). Life and Times is especially fascinating for Douglass’s accounts of his relationships with Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln, and his former slave master Thomas Auld.
In addition to his three major autobiographies, Douglass also told the story of his life through lectures, short essays, and images, and was especially attracted to photography as a medium for depicting his unfolding history. For Douglass, autobiography was personal and political, and arguably his most powerful way of making claims for Blacks’ civil rights.