Frederick Douglass is a significant figure in American history, and though we salute him on all days, today is special.
Today, February 14, 2018, marks the former slave turned abolitionist's 200th birthday. As a free man, Douglass was a statesman, orator and acclaimed writer, who went on to fight against Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s.
Though Douglass did not know his exact birth date, lore has it he chose Feb 14 as his birthday after his mother brought him a cake that Valentine's Day.
Douglass was born in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1818. According to CBS Baltimore, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared 2018 the “Year of Frederick Douglass” in honor of his bicentennial birthday.
“He’s left a great legacy behind," Kenneth B. Morris Jr., a descendant of Douglass, said. "The work that he did as an abolitionist and then later after the Civil War being the father of the civil rights and then going on to be a statesman.”
In 1845, Douglass revealed the horrific nature of slavery in his autobiography, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass." He went on to write two more autobiographies, "My Bondage and My Freedom" (1855) and "The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass" (1881). All three books are considered to be some of the greatest contributions to the American nonfiction canon.
Douglass hoped to use these works to expose the ills of slavery; as he explained in a 1848 open letter to his former master, Thomas Auld:
“I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery,” wrote Douglass. “I entertain no malice toward you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant ... I am your fellow-man, but not your slave.”
Several prominent figures honored the historical icon via Twitter:
Today is Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday, and while our collective memory tends to think of him largely as a man who freed himself from slavery & became an abolitionist, he was also one of the most brilliant, poignant writers that our country has ever produced.— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) February 14, 2018
I remember reading this passage from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass years ago & never thinking about slavery the same way again. pic.twitter.com/BDiQxJdOmn— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) February 14, 2018
Tomorrow we will commemorate the 200th birthday of a great American, Frederick Douglass. 200 years ago, tomorrow, America was blessed by the birth of a man who, in his lifetime, through his intellect, personal courage & inspiration, transformed America into a more perfect Union. pic.twitter.com/SvIPVgl0yv— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) February 13, 2018
"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will" Frederick Douglass. Happy Birthday Mr. Douglass! pic.twitter.com/QN5NekIwKf— COMMON (@common) February 14, 2018
Happy 200th Birthday, Frederick Douglass!— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) February 14, 2018
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, & where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, & degrade them, neither persons nor property is safe.”
– Frederick Douglass, born 200 years ago today. pic.twitter.com/YWBEvCJDgV— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) February 14, 2018
Happy Birthday, Mr. Douglass! Your legacy lives on.