He was orphaned at the age of seven when his mother died and thus was forced look after himself and to mature very quickly, learning to read and write under the tutelage of a woman in Baltimore who eventually purchased him. In 1838, Douglass escaped to New York City, changed his last name to Douglass, and married Maria Bailey, free women whom he had met while still in Baltimore.2
Douglass was privileged to be educated by his owner. However, he suffered the hardships of slavery and oppression firsthand, lending him expertise on the subject that no number of-even highly educated-white men could hope to match. Therefore, his insight on the subject, expressed eloquently through his writing and lectures, became pivotal in the dialogue about slavery and the abolitionist movement. Douglass began lecturing in 1841 and soon after was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to act as an agent on their behalf. He would spend the rest of his life in that capacity: writing, lecturing and publishing anti-slavery literature.
Douglass became free during a point in history in which both the Abolition and the Women's Right's movement were gaining both power, and followers. He was associated with many important figures of the age including, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, and William Lloyd Garrison.3 His contacts, not limited to peers of the same racial background as himself, served as a growing network of potential supporters. At the very least, his rhetoric was disseminated all the more quickly along these liens of communication, ensuring that his ideas-credited to him or not-reached the general public quickly. He not only influenced how the public perceived free people of color, but how they ran the abolition movement, and the women's rights movements, by affecting the manner and one of the discourse.
Douglass was known for how vehemently he disagreed with those people he called his friends. A disagreement with William Lloyd Garrison in the 1860's resulted from the inevitable conflict between the demands of Douglass, an African American anti-slavery agent for equal pay and treatment, and Garrisons' political wheeling and dealing. Both Garrison and his assistant Maria-Weston-Chapman would frequently attempt to divert Douglass from his fight for equality by characterizing him as being less than human.
Oddly enough this was typical of the anti-slavery movement at the time. African American abolitionists were often relegated to playing small public roles in the abolitionist movement, while their white counterparts spoke with bravado about their upcoming revolt against slavery.4 Douglass, rather than kowtow entirely to this attitude, Douglass kept speaking what he felt to be the truth about slavery, abolition, and the movement toward basic human rights for all people. Had he simply shrunk from his oppressors, surely the tide of change would have been slowed measurably if not stalled. This is not to assign too much importance to one man, but merely to recognize the reaches of his influence at this time. His voice was heard through his speaking and writing by