Valentine's Day takes on a different meaning for each of us. Whether you are celebrating your loved ones, an anniversary, "galentines," "palentines," or Single Awareness Day, or just going to work because today is Wednesday, February 14th is a day that is ripe with meaning that allows all of us to find a reason to celebrate. One such reason, Frederick Douglass' 200th birthday.
Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass did not know his actual birthday. So, he chose February 14 because his mother called him "Little Valentine" when he was a child. His given name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; when he escaped slavery, he changed his name to Frederick Douglass, taking his last name from Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem, Lady of the Lake.
With the help of white children in the neighborhood and scraps of books he found, Douglass taught himself to read as a child. In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he wrote, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Reading and writing sparked his desire to escape slavery to the North.
After escaping to the North, Frederick Douglass became a preacher and used his pulpit and platform to promote the cause of human rights and abolishment of slavery. As he traveled to England speaking on this issue, the risk of his capture and return to slavery became greater. Because of this, two of his English friends raised $710.96 to buy his freedom.
Douglass would go on to advise presidents, including Abraham Lincoln during the civil war. He fought for women's suffrage and eventually nominated for Vice President of the United States. Although he would decline this nomination, refusing to campaign, he became the first African-American listed on a presidential ballot as well as the first African-American nominated to be a presidential candidate for a major political party. These accolades were due, in large part, to Douglass' great influence and leadership ability.
Frederick Douglass would be 200 years old today; his words and influence live on through all of us. The best way to honor the lives our ancestors is to continue their traditions and embody their best traits. In this spirit, the whatever reason you find to celebrate today, we should all do something to commemorate the life of Frederick Douglass. In this political climate, it is all the more vital to ensure we follow the example of leaders like Douglass, who put the cause of human rights above his well-being. Many of our leaders could learn a great deal from his life an example.
Happy Birthday Frederick Douglass