If there's anyone who's birthed the words we should all live by, it's Frederick Douglass.

Born into slavery, Douglass escaped in 1838 by fleeing to New York and then New Bedford, Massachusetts. He then became an abolitionist, speaker and writer, founding his own publication, the North Star in 1847 and publishing it until 1860. He fought for civil rights and women's rights and was a consultant to President Abraham Lincoln and President Andrew Johnson. Douglass was the first Black man to be nominated for U.S. vice president, though he never campaigned. He died on February 20, 1895. 

While his exact birth date is unclear, he chose to celebrate it on February 14. In honor of Douglass, we look to his words for inspiration.

1. "It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake."

In 1852, Douglass was asked to give a speech on the 4th of July to the people of Rochester, New York. To the shock of the audience, Douglass spoke about the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom in a nation where millions of people were owned as slaves.

2. “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist reminds us that while we can hope for something to happen, nothing will come to fruition until we take the steps necessary and put in the work.



3. “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Despite his difficult life, Douglass was always working for a better future. In his 1857 “West India Emancipation” speech in Canandaigua, New York, Douglass recalled the British efforts toward emancipation. He recalled how frustrating it can be that oppressed people often need allies to get their voices heard. But despite the frustration, the efforts will pay off.

4. “A smile or a tear has no nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations, and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.”

Douglass advocated for the immigration of the Chinese in an 1869 speech in Boston. To the opposition of fellow politicians, the author reminds us to lead with humanity. Regardless of our nationality, race, religion, or sexuality, we are all humans deserving of each other's compassion.

5. "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

In 1855, Douglass sat down with slave owners who could not understand that slavery was immoral. While this quote was in regard to slavery, it still holds true today. We often praise families for supporting their children, which should be the norm.

6. “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.”

In one of his autobiographies, Douglass reminds us to not have a care as to what the haters have to say. It’s much better to live a life of truth than to be shamed into living a lie. You’re not living for other people, so their opinions shouldn’t matter.

7. "Our destiny is largely in our hands."

Douglass' life and accomplishments are a sentiment to make things happen for ourselves and to take control of our lives. In an address delivered in the Congregational Church in Washington, D.C., he reminds the crowd that if he did not emancipate himself, he would still be enslaved.