Frederick Douglass, ca. 1850


Colorization: Manos Athanasiadis

Frederick Douglass,

Frederick Douglass, “Majestic in his Wrath”, 1847-52
(photo: Samuel J. Miller / The Art Institute of Chicago)

Frederick Douglass
(born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. 1818 – 1895) was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.
He was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland. He was the son of a slave woman and, probably, her white master. Around the age of eight he was sent to live with one of his owner’s relatives in Baltimore, Maryland. It was while living in Baltimore that he was mistakenly taught the first several letters of the alphabet. Those few letters opened a new world to him and began his lifelong love of language. At fifteen, the now literate Douglass was returned to the Eastern shore to work as a field hand. Here the increasingly independent teenager educated other slaves, resisted efforts to beat him, and planned a failed escape attempt. Three years later, at age 20, Douglass disguised himself as a sailor, and carrying a friend’s passport, boarded a northbound train from Baltimore. He arrived in New York City and declared himself a free man, adopting the name of the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake”.
For 16 years he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

“Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

His three autobiographies are considered important works of the slave narrative tradition as well as classics of American autobiography. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography: “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”, which became a bestseller and influential in supporting abolition, as did the second: “My Bondage and My Freedom” (1855). After the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography: “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass”.
A firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, Douglass famously said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics and preached his own brand of American ideals. Douglass also actively supported women’s suffrage, and held several public offices.

In 1839 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre announced the perfection of the daguerreotype, a photographic process that employed a silver-coated copperplate sensitive to light. This new artistic process was celebrated for its remarkably sharp detail and praised as a “democratic art” that brought portraiture into reach for the masses. Within a few years, thousands of daguerrean portrait studios had sprung up all over the United States, among them the one that Samuel J. Miller owned in Akron, Ohio. Although most of the likenesses made in commercial studios were formulaic and not very revealing of the subject’s character, this portrait of Frederick Douglass is a striking exception. Northeastern Ohio was a center of Abolitionism prior to the Civil War, and Douglass knew that this picture, one of an astonishing number that he commissioned or posed for, would be seen by ardent supporters of his campaign to end slavery. Douglass was an intelligent manager of his public image and likely guided Miller in projecting his intensity and sheer force of character. As a result, this portrait demonstrates that Douglass truly appeared “majestic in his wrath,” as the nineteenth-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton observed.

The Art Institute of Chicago
Wikipedia: Frederick Douglass
Wikipedia: Daguerreotype
History: Frederick Douglass
History Is A Weapon: “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”. A speech given at Rochester, New York, by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852

Ο Φρέντερικ Ντάγκλας γεννήθηκε σκλάβος σε μια φυτεία του Mαίρυλαντ στις ΗΠΑ, το 1818. Σε ηλικία 8 χρονών, βρέθηκε σε μια άλλη φυτεία στη Βαλτιμόρη. Παρόλο που ο νόμος απαγόρευε στους σκλάβους να μάθουν να διαβάζουν, η γυναίκα του αφεντικού, παράτυπα, του έμαθε ανάγνωση. Η κοινή πεποίθηση στις Νότιες Πολιτείες ήταν ότι, αν οι σκλάβοι αντιλαμβάνονταν τη θέση τους, τότε θα ζητούσαν την ελευθερία τους.
Ο Ντάγκλας, άρχισε κρυφά να διαβάζει ό,τι έπεφτε στα χέρια του και σύντομα  προσπάθησε να μάθει ανάγνωση και στους υπόλοιπους δούλους. Στα 20 του χρόνια δραπέτευσε στη Νέα Υόρκη και από τότε αφοσιώθηκε στην εξάλειψη της δουλείας, με τη χαρακτηριστική ρήση: “Η γνώση είναι ο δρόμος από τη σκλαβιά στην ελευθερία”. Στα επόμενα χρόνια αναδείχθηκε σε έναν από τους μεγαλύτερους ρήτορες και υπερασπιστές των ανθρώπινων δικαιωμάτων, εκδίδοντας εφημερίδες, δίνοντας διαλέξεις και γράφοντας τρεις αυτοβιογραφίες που θεωρούνται κλασσικές στην Αμερικάνικη λογοτεχνία. Πέθανε το 1895, μετά από μια ομιλία του για την χειραφέτηση των γυναικών.

Στα μέσα του 19ου αι., τα φωτογραφικά πορτραίτα που γίνονταν με τη νέα εντυπωσιακή μέθοδο της δαγκεροτυπίας ήταν πολύ δημοφιλή. Ωστόσο, τα περισσότερα ήταν τυποποιημένα κι αδιάφορα, και δεν απεικόνιζαν το χαρακτήρα του εικονιζόμενου. Όμως, οι φωτογραφίες  που έβγαλε ο Ντάγκλας πριν τον Αμερικάνικο Εμφύλιο, στο Βορειοανατολικό Οχάϊο, το προπύργιο των πολέμιων της δουλείας, ήταν εξαίρεση. Ο Ντάγκλας ήξερε να χειρίζεται άριστα τη δημόσια εικόνα του και ήθελε τα πορτραίτα του να δημιουργούν μια συγκεκριμένη εντύπωση στους οπαδούς του. Σ’ αυτό το πορτραίτο, καθοδήγησε τον φωτογράφο του, Σάμουελ Μίλλερ, έτσι ώστε να απεικονίσει το δυναμισμό του χαρακτήρα του.  Η Ελίζαμπεθ Στάντον, γνωστή φεμινίστρια της εποχής, εύστοχα έδωσε στη φωτογραφία τον τίτλο : “Μεγαλοπρεπής στο θυμό του”.


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