Five Great Books about Frederick Douglass in Honor of his 200th Birthday

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Yes, I know today is Valentine’s Day, but did you know today is also the day Frederick Douglass would be celebrating his 200th birthday? Considering this man is one of my personal heroes, I figured I’d dedicate today’s post to him, instead of waxing on about love and flowers and chocolate and such. But just as a historical aside, nobody knows exactly what date in February Douglass was born. He claimed Valentine’s Day for himself, which I think might have been one of his most radical acts to date, aligning himself with love.

So, in honor of the bicentennial of his chosen birthday, I decided to compile a list of five great books that give us greater insight into the man our 45th president believes may still be alive.

1. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave I almost didn’t include the classic autobiography that I think every high-school sophomore is required to read, but it is a classic for a reason. In his own words, Douglass tells us the harrowing yet inspirational story of his life and it is this book that made me and many others understand how extraordinary his journey really was. I still have my 1968 edition of the book.

2. The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politicsby James Oakes. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln considered Frederick Douglass his “dear friend?” This densely researched, narrative history book details the remarkable relationship between the president and the then most “famous Black man in America.” At first the two were adversaries and then they became allies, as they both grappled with how to put an end to slavery. A fascinating read and one that sheds light on a relationship many never knew existed.

3. Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American The subtitle on this book is not hyperbole. Frederick Douglass was in fact the most photographed American in the 19th century. It wasn’t President Lincoln, it was a former slave and abolitionist. This book offers an amazing collection of photographs of Douglass taken over the course of his life. Not only that, there are examples of Douglass’s writings on the power of photography, particularly in how he thought it would humanize Black people. Douglass was an early admirer of photography and probably if he hadn’t been busy trying to dismantle slavery, avoid being killed and giving speeches all over the world, could have developed into powerful photojournalist himself.

4. Douglass’ Women: A Novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This novel based on historical fact, imagines the lives of the two loves of Douglass’s life, his Black wife and his White mistress (who would later become his second wife). *gasp* Talk about a love triangle for the times. From the author’s website, “Douglass’ Women fills the gaps and silences that history has left in an unforgettable epic full of heartache and triumph.”

5. Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers. Of course I had to include one book for the kiddies and this new offering, published in 2017 is geared for young people age seven and up and includes wonderful illustrations by Floyd Cooper. The book explores Douglass’s extraordinary life in copy that will surely inspire both young and old.

So, get to reading. Maybe you’ll learn something new about this fascinating man. Maybe you’ll be reminded why his life’s work is still relevant today. Maybe, you’ll just have fun admiring his awesome hair. Whatever, just remember to wish him well on his special day.

Do you have a favorite Frederick Douglass book that I missed? Share it in the comments and thanks in advance.

Peace!

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