Finding Frederick Douglass in the Parks
More than 100 years after Frederick Douglass was born, he remains an iconic figure in American history. Instantly recognizable by his signature bowties and stoic gaze, the legacy he created continues to echo through time. This inspiring orator, writer, and abolitionist (among many other titles) is remembered at several national park sites up and down the east coast.
A Recognizable Face
The Museum of African American History at Boston African American National Historic Site recently completed a year-long exhibition featuring photographs of Frederick Douglass. Douglass shone as one of the first African American icons to be regularly photographed – his many photoshoots solidified his place as one of the most recognized Americans of his time. The exhibit of prolific photos taken of Douglass helped further tell the story of one of America’s greatest civil rights activists.
A Man for All People
Almost 100 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment and even longer since the emancipation of enslaved Africans, it is even more imperative to understand how intertwined these two civil and human rights movements were. Many of the abolitionists of the 19th century were also women’s rights advocates and vice versa. Before Douglass moved to his final home in Washington, D.C., he lived in Rochester, New York — not far from the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
While living there, he was an active member of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society and attended the First Women’s Rights Convention in nearby Seneca Falls. His support of the women’s rights movement continued over the years as he helped found the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Tensions would rise between abolitionists and suffragettes, as many attempted to keep attention on his or her own cause, yet Douglass continued to champion both causes throughout his life.
Life on the Wharf
Before traveling extensively internationally or moving to Rochester, Douglass lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Though New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park tells the story of America’s whaling industry, this heritage intersects with Douglass’s story. In 1838, just two weeks after young Douglass escaped from slavery and got married in New York, he traveled to New Bedford with his new wife, adopted the last name Douglass, and worked several jobs, including as a caulker on the wharves.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park’s history is interlaced with the violence of the Civil War. Preceding these events were the antics of John Brown. Brown had spent his entire life crusading against slavery across the U.S. He first met Frederick Douglass in Massachusetts in 1847. Little did Douglass know that in just 12 years, Brown would go on to lead one of the most famous anti-slavery rebellions in history.
Douglass’ role is remembered at the park due to his visit in 1881. He gave a compelling oration about Brown’s sacrifice at the fourteenth anniversary of Storer College, a freedmen’s school that was created to educate all, regardless of sex, race, or religion. The college opened as the Storer Normal School in October 1867, and Douglass served as a trustee. The college was an important spot for furthering equal rights and continued until 1954 when the decision to end legal segregation resulted in the end of federal and state funding to the school. The college’s old campus is still used today for training by the National Park Service.
Home on the Hill
Frederick Douglass bought Cedar Hill, located in Washington, D.C., on September 1878. Douglass lived at this historic house with his first wife Anna until her death, and with his second wife Helen until his own passing in 1895. Throughout his time in the house, he made numerous additions, even building a one-room structure in the backyard that was inspired by Charles Dickens’ “growlery,” or a place to growl. This tiny book-filled cabin gave him a quiet place to study and contemplate alone. Today, guests can learn about the life and times of Frederick Douglass by visiting the home and taking a guided tour.
Visitors stop at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, eager to learn about the life and legacy of its namesake, but few know about these other National Park Service sites that also commemorate this legendary writer and diplomat.
From enslavement in Baltimore to becoming one of the most widely recognized people of the 19th century, Douglass remains a beloved American leader. Learn more about Frederick Douglass and other inspiring characters in our country's history when you #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque.