(suspenseful music) [Frederick Douglass] In the summer of 1841, a grand anti-slavery convention was held in Nantucket.
(bells tolling) I was induced to express the feelings inspired by the occasion and the fresh recollection of the seams through which I had passed as a slave.
[Kenneth Morris] The abolitionists that were there knew that they had this fugitive slave in the audience and they asked Frederick, "Will you just stand up?
Will you tell the audience what it was like to be enslaved?"
[Douglass] What shall I say of this experience?
I have seen the cruelty and brutality of slavery, and I had been subjected to the depths of slave life.
(people shouting) I was a graduate from this peculiar institution, with my diploma written on my back.
[Morris] And the abolitionists couldn't believe their eyes.
He was eloquent.
He was charismatic.
He was theatrical.
And they understood that they had this star on their hands.
Frederick was a survivor of this institution that could communicate the inhumanity of slavery in a way that nobody before him had ever done.
[Douglass] All that the American people needed, I thought, was light.
Could they know slavery as I knew it, they would hasten to the work of its extinction.
[John Stauffer] More Americans heard Douglass speak than any other American in the 19th century, with the possible exception of Mark Twain.
And it was significant that a former slave was famous.
[Sarah Lewis] Frederick Douglass understood the power of his literature as a tactic of liberation.
A man born enslaved who rose to become a man of growth, of self-mastery.
That arc of a life, it means that anything is possible.
[Christopher Bonner] Douglass was becoming various things across his life.
He was becoming free and figuring out how to make himself a person who was not enslaved.
He was becoming literate and becoming a person who had cultivated all sorts of knowledge that he could use in his politics.
And what's most interesting is that he was becoming a person who could change what the nation was and help to eliminate the institution of slavery.
[Farah Griffin] Frederick Douglass has a very clear idea of what becoming means.
He is becoming an orator.
He's becoming a world leader.
He's becoming a statesman and for him, becoming is a ever unfolding process that he sees as self-creation.
(suspenseful music continues) (birds chirping) ♪ Go to sleepy little baby ♪ ♪ 'fore the booger man catch you ♪ ♪ go to sleep you little baby ♪ ♪ Mama ran away and she told me to stay ♪ ♪ and take good care of this baby ♪ ♪ Go to sleep, ♪ ♪ go to sleep... ♪ [Douglass] I was born in Tuckahoe, in Talbot County, Maryland.
On the Chesapeake Bay.
I had no accurate knowledge of my age.
By far, the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs; and it is the wish of most Masters to keep their slaves thus ignorant.
[Adam Goodheart] Frederick Douglass's childhood was one of constant disruption, separation, violence, and threats of violence.
[Stauffer] He never knew who his father was.
He did not know his mother very well, and that was common for enslaved people.
[Morris] He only saw his mother a handful of times his whole life.
And that's because she lived on a plantation that was 12 miles away.
But he did have someone early in his life that showed him some love, and nurturing, and care.
And that was his grandmother, Betsy.
(tense music) (people chattering) [Nick Bromell] Douglass spent the first six years of his childhood living with his grandmother.
Not on the plantation of the Colonel Lloyd family, but quite a distance from it; 12 miles away.
Frederick Douglass's grandmother meant a tremendous amount to him.
And her love of him made a tremendous impact on him.
[Douglass] As I grew larger and older, I learned by degrees the sad fact that the little hut, and Grandmother herself, belonged to some person who lived a great distance off, and who was called by Grandmother, "Old Master."
[Morris] When he was around five or six years old, his grandmother said, "We're going to go on a long journey."
Because it was time.
(crickets chirping) [Bromell] The time finally came when his grandmother would have to take him to the Great House plantation, and his real life of enslavement would begin.
[Morris] That 12 mile walk to the main plantation took a long time.
He was scared and clinging to her skirt.
[Bromell] And they enter a dark wood.
(owl hooting) And Douglass started to see monsters in there.
(monster grumbling) [Douglass] I could see their legs, eyes, and ears, or I could see something like eyes, legs, and ears; till I got close enough to them to see that the eyes were nuts, washed white with rain and the legs were broken limbs.
Thus, early I learned that the point from which a thing is viewed is of some importance.
[Morris] Frederick sees this home is bigger than anything he'd ever seen before.
He wanders off to look for something to eat and to check out his surroundings, and when he turns back to look for his grandmother, she's gone.
(somber music) [Bromell] After his grandmother left him, that's when he had what he called his "initiation into slavery."
When he began to see how...uh... cruel the system was.
[Douglass] I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of atrocious cruelty.
My master's savage barbarity was equaled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves under his charge.
[Bromell] One of the first things that he saw was the whipping of his own aunt.
(woman crying) [Douglass] The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped.
(whip cracks) It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the Hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass.
[Spires] This is the turning point in his life, when Douglass sees his condition.
In that moment, where little Frederick Douglass is in a closet watching the brutal beating of his aunt, he's learning this is what it means to be enslaved.
(somber music) [Morris] Frederick Douglass is chosen from among all of the children on the plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to go to Baltimore to be the house servant for his master's family.
And he described this event as divine providence in his favor.
[Douglass] There were a number of slave children that might have been sent from the plantation to Baltimore.
I was chosen from among them all.
(water rushing and seagulls squawking) We arrived at Baltimore early on Sunday morning.
Mr. and Mrs. Auld were both at home, and met me at the door with their little son, Thomas, to take care of whom I had been given.
[Marcia Chatelain] Enslaved children in many ways mirrored the activities of the adults around them.
Children were responsible for caring for children not much older- or even a few years younger than them.
And so, in this process, they were being groomed for that position in society.
And Frederick Douglass experienced that throughout his childhood.
(somber music) [Bromell] Mrs. Hugh Auld doesn't really understand that to keep someone enslaved, you have to treat them as a non-human being.
Because they've never had a slave before.
They're new to slavery.
So, she starts teaching Douglass how to read.
(soft inquisitive music) [Spires] And Hugh Auld catches him and is incensed.
And he says, "If you teach him how to read, he will no longer be fit for enslavement."
[Morris] And Frederick heard that message loud and clear.
(laughs) And he looked at his enslaver and he thought, "Hmm, if you don't want me to have this, I'm going to do everything in my power to gain it."
[Douglass] Wise as Mr. Auld was, he evidently underrated my comprehension.
And the very determination which he expressed to keep me in ignorance only rendered me the more resolute in seeking intelligence.
[Stauffer] He lived in a neighborhood in Baltimore with a number of comparatively poor immigrant boys.
And Sophia Auld would make biscuits, uh, and he would...he would fill his pockets with biscuits and trade biscuits for words, asking the boys who were learning how to read what they meant.
And from them, he learned how to read.
He learned how to write.
He took some chalk and would practice his handwriting on the streets of Baltimore.
And that's how he learned how to read and write.
[Spires] Literacy became a kind of gateway uh an inflection point for him, right?
Learning to read was about access to literally reading words on the page, but it was also access to knowledge.
So, one of the books he mentions, again and again, is "The Columbian Orator."
(somber music) (pages flipping) [Stauffer] The two main books that Douglass read were, one, the Bible.
The other book that he read was "The Columbian Orator", which is a collection of speeches designed for young boys who didn't have the privilege of formal education to help them become effective speakers and writers.
[Spires] In that text, he encounters a dialogue between an enslaved person and his enslaver, where he sees this enslaved person reason with the enslaver, and point by point, dismantle all the justifications for enslavement.
[Douglass] The master was vanquished at every turn in the argument; and he generously and meekly emancipates the slave with his best wishes for his prosperity.
And I could not help feeling that the day might come, when the well-directed answers made by the slave to the master would find their counterpart in myself.
[Spires] He notes that when they worked him from sunup to sundown so that he was too exhausted to think, those were the times when he couldn't actually process his condition.
But the minute he has a moment to reflect, a moment to read or to stare out on the Chesapeake those are the moments when Douglass sees his condition, and recognizes, "I'm not just enslaved.
I'm a slave for life."
What does that mean?
(birds calling) (bell ringing) [Vincent Leggett] And he would just look at the tall ships coming and going, and their sails looked like angels or ghosts floating in the air.
And he would just ask hisself, "Why am I a slave?
Why am I in this hot Hell when the gallant ships go all over the habitable globe, and I'm here in this bondage?
Oh, if I was free, if I could fly, if I could swim, I'd run away.
Just 100 miles north, I'd be free.
I'd get on a boat and I'll set it adrift, and this bay shall yet bear me to freedom."
(somber music) (tools clacking) ♪ I'll be so glad when (oh when) the sun goes down ♪ ♪ when the sun go down ♪ ♪ I'll be so glad when (ah-ha) the sun goes down ♪ ♪ when the sun go down ♪ [Douglass] There was, in the Bay Side, a man named Edward Covey, who enjoyed the execrated reputation of being a first-rate hand at breaking young Negroes.
If at any one time of my life I was made to drink the bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during my stay with Mr.
[Spires] Douglass's time with Edward Covey is a turning point in his life.
He gets sent to Covey, the famed breaker of enslaved people because he's gotten a bit of a reputation as unruly, uncontrolled.
He's been reading, he's been holding Sunday Schools, he's tried to escape.
He's done all this, and so it's the last straw.
"We're gonna finally break you."
EDWARD BAPTIST: Individuals who were suspected of being potential troublemakers, they were sent to slave breakers.
And his job was to get them in the habit of submitting to the demands of slavery.
(tense music) [Gerard Aching] Mr.
Covey found a particular niche in the economy for himself.
That is to say not only did he have slaves himself, but he found a niche in the sense that he was able to create a reputation for himself as being able to discipline.
[Edward Baptist] Douglass sees Covey's task as one of transforming him into a brute, and a brute, in that context, is a farm animal.
It's something below human.
[Bromell] Edward Covey would give you scantiest of allowances and clothing, and work you endlessly, endlessly, endlessly.
And the whole idea was just to break a person in body, and that would break them in spirit.
[Douglass] I had brought my mind to a firm resolve to obey every order, however unreasonable.
And if Mr.
Covey should then undertake to beat me, I would defend and protect myself to the best of my ability.
[Baptist] For those several months, Covey gave Douglass his full attention.
So, whenever Douglass was working in the field, Covey found some fault with his work and would harass him and shout at him and on multiple occasions, beat him.
[Morris] After six months of taking these brutal beatings, Frederick had enough.
(dramatic music) (insects chirping) [Morris] He and Covey had this epic two-hour battle that was more of a wrestling match than a fisticuffs, because Frederick understood that he needed to use his mind and be strategic.
(men grunting) [Bromell] His intention was not to defeat and punish Covey to the greatest extent possible.
It was simply to draw a line and say, "If you...if you try to come after me physically, you're...this is what you are going to get."
(men grunting) [Spires] Covey himself was in a bit of a precarious spot.
He had the reputation as the slave breaker.
And so, to retaliate in a way that was visible, as in, "I could not break Douglass, therefore I had to kill him," was against Covey's best interest.
[Douglass] This battle with Mr.
Covey was the turning point in my life as a slave.
It rekindled in my breast the smoldering embers of liberty.
I was nothing before.
I was a man now.
(somber music) [Baptist] After that incident, there was a great deal of discussion among his owners about possibly selling him down to Alabama or Mississippi, to the cotton states to sort of get him off their plate.
[Amy Murell Taylor] Enslaved people in Maryland lived with the constant fear that they or a family member could be sold down into the Deep South, and so that daily fear was always with them, even as they're looking north and seeing Pennsylvania not that far in the distance.
It was still a very dangerous, very scary proposition to flee.
But Pennsylvania was not as far away for them as it was for, say, Mississippi.
(insects chirping) [Stauffer] Douglass and some fellow slaves, tried to run away.
They tried to escape up to free soil.
They were caught.
And other planters on the Eastern Shore told Thomas Auld that Douglass was trouble and that they wanted to kill Douglass, essentially.
[Stauffer] From Thomas Auld's perspective, Douglass is property.
To protect his property, he had Douglass... he sent Douglass back to Baltimore.
♪ I'm gonna sail like a ship mmm... on that ocean ♪ ♪ I'm gonna sail like a ship on that ocean ♪ [Leggett] Once he got to Baltimore, which was a thriving shipbuilding point, Fells Point in Baltimore, he would see people of color from all around coming into Fells Point not only to get their boats repaired but bringing in cargo.
♪ Well, I'm gonna sail till I see my dear old mother, ♪ [Douglass] In a few weeks after I went to Baltimore, Master Hugh hired me to Mr. William Gardner, and extensive ship builder on Fells Point.
I was put there to learn how to caulk.
(gentle music) [Leggett] The Caulkers are a high-skilled position to help repair wooden vessels.
And Frederick Douglass became very skilled in that craft as well as many other African Americans in Baltimore's Fells Point.
[Spires] In Baltimore, you have a really robust free Black population with AME Church.
[Chatelain] The AME Church was central in not only creating a space for African Americans to worship, but creating a network of support for African Americans who were committed to anti-slavery.
[Bonner] The church made possible a lot of Frederick Douglass's life, it made it possible for him to meet Anna Murray and meeting Anna Murray was really what made it possible for Douglass to get free.
[Morris] There would be no Frederick Douglass without Anna.
They met in Baltimore when Frederick was a teenager, enslaved.
As they started thinking about a life together, Anna was one of the first people to plant the seed of thought in his mind that, "Frederick, you're not meant to be a slave for life.
It doesn't matter what your enslaver says to you."
And as they're starting to think about a life together, she said, "Frederick, I don't want our children's father to be a slave."
[Baptist] The only way that they can get married, and have a family and live the way that they wanna live is for him to escape and, and her to meet him in the north.
The problem is, the steamboats, the railroads, the road crossings into Pennsylvania, all of these are guarded.
African American individuals had to carry their free papers in order to get through those different checkpoints.
So, it's quite a quandary, but they come up with a plan to pass him off as a free Black sailor.
[Leggett] The U.S. Navy had more people of color in their ranks than any other branch of service.
There was a brotherhood of people of the sea.
It didn't matter whether you were Black or White, if you had your seamen's papers.
(somber music) [Baptist] What Anna does is get him, a suit of sailor's clothes.
They borrow a set of, of papers that sailors carried when they travel to different ports so they wouldn't be, arrested.
And so, this is his disguise.
[Leggett] So, Frederick Douglass took the train up to the Susquehanna River.
They were so used to seeing the blue jackets and the gold buttons with the eagles on it.
That wasn't news.
(somber music) [Baptist] This is how he is able to board a train, board a steamer, and ultimately, make it across the Mason Dixon line, first to Philadelphia, and Delaware, and then on to New York, where he meets up with Anna again, he gets married to her.
(background sounds of city) (somber music) [Morris] Had she not sold her personal belongings to help finance his escape, who knows if he would've had the courage or the wherewithal to escape.
And had that not happened, we would be a very different country sitting here today.
(bells ringing) (somber music) [Morris] It was suggested that Frederick and Anna go to New Bedford so he could get work.
♪ ♪ [Douglass] Once, initiated into my new life of freedom, a comparatively unimportant question arose as to a name by which I should be known thereafter.
Between Baltimore and New Bedford, the better to conceal myself from the slave hunters, I had parted with Bailey and called myself "Frederick Douglass."
(soft optimistic music) [Bonner] Even though he changes his last name and becomes Frederick Douglass, he holds on to the "Frederick."
That's a...a sort of an essential part of his identity.
He feels some connection to that name, a name that was likely or possibly given to him by his mother, and he doesn't want to abandon that entire sense of who he is, even as he is building a new life for himself.
(bells ringing) (birds calling) ♪ I am an abolitionist, I glory in thy name, ♪ ♪ though now my slavery's minions hiss'd ♪ ♪ and covered o'er with shame.
♪ ♪ It is a spell of light and power, ♪ ♪ the watchword of the free ♪ [Robert Levine] New Bedford had a lot of things going for her, for one there was a Black community there, and Douglass became exposed to the abolitionist movement that was really hot in Massachusetts, led by William Lloyd Garrison.
♪ A nobler strife the world never saw ♪ ♪ Th'enslaved to disenthral ♪ [ERIC FONER] William Lloyd Garrison was one of the most prominent abolitionists in the country, the editor of the Liberator, a weekly newspaper, which was fervently anti-slavery and for the rights of African Americans.
[Douglass] I love this paper and its editor.
He was never loud and noisy, but calm and serene as a summer sky and as pure.
And his paper took a place in my heart second only to the Bible.
[Morris] Garrison was fighting for justice, and he was fighting for equality.
And Frederick knew what injustice felt like.
He knew what inequality felt like, and that's when Frederick really began to speak out about his enslavement.
♪ ♪ [Spires] In the 19th Century, oratory was a huge deal.
Going to an oration, going to a debate was the equivalent of going to the movies.
[Stauffer] For the next several years Douglass traveled throughout the North and what's now the Upper-Midwest, speaking out against slavery.
Douglass in a sense was so eloquent and elegant as a speaker that some whites started to accuse him of being a fraud.
[Douglass] People doubt that I had ever been a slave.
They said, "I did not talk like a slave, look like a slave nor act like a slave."
Thus, I was in a pretty fair way to be denounced as an imposter.
[Morris] And so, in order to prove he was who he claimed to be, he wrote... "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave."
[Bonner] The sort of concluding piece of the title is "written by himself."
Those words were really powerful and challenging to a lot of what White Americans thought was possible.
[Morris] It was published in 1845.
It sold 4500 copies in three months.
You know, he was a star.
And now, he had another problem.
[Bonner] Once he publishes the narrative, he's probably the most famous Black person in the world at that point.
But he, in the narrative, has outed himself as a fugitive.
(somber music) (hoofbeats clacking) (dramatic music) [Douglass] The writing of my pamphlet in the spring of 1845 endangered my liberty and led me to seek a refuge from republican slavery in monarchical England.
[Bonner] Douglass goes to the UK, in part to seek refuge but also in part to continue to boost his political profile.
And when he goes there, he is incredibly well-received.
(audience applauding) [Chatelain] When Frederick Douglass arrives in the UK, he is celebrated as the moral and social and political voice of the anti-slavery movement.
He becomes a global figure that represents the brutality of slavery and the possibility of freedom.
[Griffin] When Douglass goes to England, he is embraced by a community of radical-thinking people.
And he is allowed to become, even more of who he already is because of the community there that embraces him.
(dark introspective music) [Bromell] People start saying to him, "We can raise money to...uh, buy you out of slavery.
We can offer...er... your slave master a sum of money that basically he can't refuse."
The Garrisonians thought, "No, you can't do that."
Because to allow yourself to be bought out of slavery tacitly accepted the principle that slavery was legal.
[Chatelain] By our standards today, we would think it's ridiculous that abolitionists would not embrace Douglass securing his freedom.
But I think that for many of them, they also understood that Douglass was a political tool.
And I think Douglass never saw himself as that.
He saw himself as a person seeking freedom.
[Douglass] I think, the very best thing was done, in letting Master Hugh have the 150 pounds sterling, and leaving me free to return to my appropriate field of labor.
I could have easily remained in England, for the same friends, who had so generously purchased my freedom, would have assisted me in establishing myself in that country.
But I felt that I had a duty to perform - and that was, to labor and suffer with the oppressed in my native land.
(people chattering) [Bonner] After returning from the UK, Douglass became increasingly sure about his capacity to sort of act as an independent political figure.
But he also was developing into a person who was more comfortable with his own political ideas.
[Morris] You know, at first, Frederick was Garrison's protégé, and so Garrison said to Frederick, "You just tell your story and, and leave the thinking to us."
(somber music) [Douglass] "Tell your story Frederick," would whisper my revered friend Mr. Garrison, as I stepped upon the platform.
I could not always follow the injunction.
It did not entirely satisfy me to narrate wrongs.
I felt like denouncing them."
(somber music) [Bromell] White abolitionists think there is only one point of view.
But Douglass wants a role that's much wider than this, a scripted role of someone who simply opposed to slavery, Douglass is someone who is now prepared to contest a...a more widespread system of injustices.
And this was one of the reasons why he wanted to start The North Star, his newspaper.
[Chatelain] For Frederick Douglass, starting the North Star was critical to create a Black voice of abolition.
There were other abolitionist newspapers, but very few spoke to the question of the end of slavery from the perspective of Black people.
[Douglass] Right is of no sex, truth is of no color, God is the father of us all and all we are brethren.
[Spires] Editors rule the day.
The editors of the newspaper really shaped who saw what, where and when.
And so, to have a newspaper was to be the shaper of public opinion.
Founding the newspaper is sort of like Douglass's declaration of intellectual and activist independence.
[Douglass] The North Star was published weekly, and averaged circulation of 3000 subscribers.
I had an audience to speak to every week.
[Keith Leonard] Douglass had this capacity to be a great editor, to be a great political leader, but his vision was different from Garrison's, and Garrison couldn't roll with that.
William Lloyd Garrison was not only disagreeing with the political strategy but also objecting or felt kind of offended that Douglass was splitting from him.
He even recommended that his followers not read Douglass's newspaper.
[Spires] Douglass says, "I am no longer going to be dependent on your infrastructure to give me voice, I'm going to take my own voice."
And that's the point where Douglass is in a seat of power.
And so, when you read something like, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July" you get a sense that Douglass saw words as battleaxes.
(Upbeat marching flute music) [Douglass] What, to the American slave, is your fourth of July?
I answer a day that reveals to him more than all of the days in the year the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.
To him, your celebration is a sham, your boasted liberty and unholy license, your national greatness, swelling vanity, your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless, your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence, your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery, your prayers, and hymns, your sermons, and thanksgivings with all your religious parade and solemnity are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy.
A thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.
(tense music) [Douglass] This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.
Why am I called upon to speak here today?
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?
(marching drums music) [Spires] In speeches and essays Douglass talks about the daguerreotype, developed in 1840s as one of the central modern marvels of the day.
As important as...say, the telegraph for its ability to capture a reality, unfiltered.
And so, Douglass saw in photography, a way to show African descended people as they were, in all their beauty.
[Stauffer] Douglass recognized the degree to which representation itself could be a powerful mechanism for ending slavery, for achieving universal freedom and equality.
And throughout his life, Douglass recognized the power of the image.
(strong orchestra music) [Lewis] We now understand that Frederick Douglass is the most photographed American man in the 19th century, not African American man, but American man.
He consciously put himself in front of the camera because he understood the democratic power of that new technological medium.
[Levine] Frederick Douglass was obsessed with the way that Black people were stereotyped; that they were made to look stupid, they were made to look savage.
So, he became preoccupied with how he looked.
And you look at the images themselves and you see that he's up to something.
It's, presenting himself in this particular way.
He is serious, he's engaged, he's really smart.
[Lewis] He understood the way in which his embodied form self-possessed, dignified, masterful, could create a weapon to counter the sea of racist stereotypes that surrounded Douglass and everyone in the dis-United States at that time.
(camera flash) (upbeat orchestra music) [Morris] Frederick said, "When you look at a photograph of me, you're never going to deny that I'm a man worthy of freedom and citizenship.
You're going to look me in the eye and see my humanity."
[Lewis] You can see in his gaze that he's not afraid of the camera.
He's able to go toe-to-toe with the camera, he's able to hold his gaze.
He commands your attention.
And Douglass is extraordinarily handsome no matter what, uh, vantage point you want to use (laughs).
Whatever standard of beauty you've got, Douglass gives it to you.
[Spires] Douglass was meticulous in how he himself photographed.
He was always dressed to the hilt.
He was always intent on his particular, sort of how he would be posed.
The head-on daguerreotype of Douglass, with that piercing gaze, right...was important.
[Lewis] The central question of the day for Frederick Douglass was, "By what right does anyone have to own another human being?"
So when you're looking at Frederick Douglass in a photograph, you are seeing insistent self-possession.
You're seeing a refutation of the very idea that slavery could even be possible.
(slave gang chanting over the sound of axes breaking rocks) ♪ It makes a long, long-time man oh feel bad ♪ ♪ It makes a long, long-time man oh feel bad ♪ ♪ It makes a long, long-time man feel bad... ♪ [Baptist] "Runaway from the subscriber in Albemarle, a mulatto slave called Sandy, about 35 years of age, his stature is rather low, inclining to corpulence and his complexion, light.
Whoever conveys the said slave to me in Albemarle, shall have a 40 shillings reward if taken up within the county.
And ten pounds, if in any other Colony.
From Thomas Jefferson."
♪ He was a long Oh driving man ♪ ♪ Yes, he was What got him done ♪ ♪ He worked hard ♪ [Baptist] What's remarkable about this is that it's not remarkable.
It's Thomas Jefferson, so we find it significant, but enslavers were placing these kinds of ads in every state or territory where slavery existed.
(slave chain gang indistinctly singing) [Baptist] Between the ratification of the Constitution 1789 and 1850, there's increasing conflict over the rendition of fugitives from slavery.
And so, the southern-most states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, make a demand which is that they will be able to claim anybody who escapes from slavery in the slave states to the free states.
And this immediately puts the freedom of every single African American in the north at a much greater level of threat.
(solemn music) [Gloria Browne-Marshall] The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was the last ditch effort of those slaveholder's who wanted to hold on to the bondage and greed of slavery.
(solemn music) [Amy Murrell Taylor] The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act created enforcement mechanisms that forced and required the federal government to get in the business of sending back to slavery those who ran away.
Now, the federal government was going to go after those who had fled to northern states.
This hadn't happened before.
[Browne-Marshall] What we saw were these slaveholders who were very politically connected and very wealthy, and they lobbied the Congress to have a fugitive slave act that not only meant that their escaped property would be brought back, but anyone, Black or White, involved in assisting that person to escape slavery would also have criminal consequences.
[Douglass] The hardships imposed by this atrocious, and shameless law were cruel, and shocking.
Although, I was now myself free, I was not without apprehension.
Even colored people who had been free all their lives felt themselves very insecure in their freedom.
[Levine] Douglass argued in 1850 in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Law being passed that Blacks had the right to use violence to resist fugitive slave catchers.
[Douglass] It can never be wrong for the imbrued and whip-scared slaves or their friends to hunt, harass, and even strike down the traffickers in human flesh.
[Bonner] That was a radical position, using violence as a way to a way to challenge slave catchers.
And he says, "That the best way to make the Fugitive Slave Act a dead letter is to make two or three dead kidnappers."
And he says, "That this is a thing that's justifiable."
[Browne-Marshall] After the Fugitive Slave Act, Frederick Douglass knew that it would come to war.
He realized just how deeply entrenched as Southerners and many others were in this institution of bondage.
They were not going to willingly give up slavery.
(soft introspective music) [Foner] Lincoln was running for president as a anti-slavery Republican in 1860.
On the one hand, Douglass said, "Look, this guy is not an abolitionist.
We are abolitionists.
We're demanding immediate end to slavery.
That's not Lincoln.
On the other hand, Lincoln is a major step forward in the struggle against slavery."
(dark introspective music) [Douglass] Abraham Lincoln proposed his grand historic doctrine of the power and duty of the national government to prevent the spread and perpetuity of slavery.
Into this contest, I threw myself with firmer faith and more ardent hope than ever before.
And what I could do by pen or voice was done with a will.
(people chattering) [Stauffer] When Lincoln was elected, he was the first openly anti-slavery president in the United States, the first president for whom anti-slavery was a central theme.
Na....it's the first time.
[Douglass] It was Mr. Lincoln who told the American people that the Union could not long endure half-slave and half-free, that they must be all one or the other, that the public mind could find no resting place but in the belief in the ultimate extinction of slavery.
[Foner] Slavery is not safe under the rule of anti-slavery people.
We're going to pick up our marbles and go and set up a new country, the Confederate States of America.
(tense music) [Stauffer] Leaving, walking out, seceding, it was always the trump card of Southerners.
And when Lincoln gives us his inaugural address, seven states have seceded.
The Confederacy's already been formed.
Douglass was actually, cautiously very optimistic about secession, because he recognized this as a golden opportunity to destroy slavery.
[Douglass] I confess to strongly favoring the prospect of a conflict between the North and the South.
Standing outside the pale of American humanity, denied citizenship, unable to call the land of my birth my country, and longing for the end of the bondage of my people, I was ready for any political upheaval which should bring about a change in the existing condition of things.
[Browne-Marshall] Frederick Douglass knew how deeply invested these Southerners were in their free labor.
The cotton and other products that came from slavery were bought and sold on the New York Stock Exchange.
This was not just a Southern endeavor, and they were not going to let it go, but for war.
And so, he had to become an advocate for something that he did not want - and that was for one person to have to kill another in order to break the bonds of slavery.
(somber music) (weapons firing) [Foner] When the war breaks out, Lincoln says, you know, very explicitly, "This is a war about the Union.
We are fighting to save the Union.
It is not about slavery.
We are not going to threaten the institution of slavery."
And Douglass criticizes Lincoln very harshly for not fighting an anti-slavery war, fighting a war for the Union.
[Abraham Lincoln] My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.
If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it.
What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.
[Stauffer] Douglass, from the beginning, emphasizes that a war to preserve the Union is inseparable from a war to end slavery because he understands that the four million slaves in the South constitute a potent source of Black power.
So, Douglass emphasizes right away, "Free slaves and arm them, and this war will...will, we will win the war and it will end it fairly quickly."
(dramatic music) [Bonner] In 1861 and 1862, Douglass was a fierce critic of Lincoln for refusing to allow African Americans to enlist in the Union military.
Douglass said from the beginnings of the war that this war between slave owners in the United States, that it would have to be a war that would end slavery.
But Lincoln was hesitant to do that and...and Douglass was basically saying, "You are, you're not doing your job.
You are...ah...failing in this project of...of running this war because you're trying to fight it with one arm tied behind your back."
[Douglass] I have implored the imperiled nation to unchain against her foes her powerful Black hand.
The day dawns, the morning star is bright upon the horizon, the iron gates of our prison stands half-open.
One gallant rush from the North will fling it wide open, while four millions of our brothers and sisters shall march out into liberty.
The chance is now given you to end, in a day, the bondage of centuries.
[Morris] Lincoln was a politician, so he was truly on the fence, and it would take somebody like Frederick Douglass, who I think Lincoln had great respect for, to say "Mr. President, we can't wait."
(weapon fires) [Stauffer] The Emancipation Proclamation authorizes, formally and publicly, the arming of Blacks as soldiers.
They know the Southern landscape in a way that Union soldiers don't.
They end up becoming essentially almost a special force for the army.
And Douglass eagerly supports the recruitment of Blacks as soldiers.
And he recruits his two sons, Charles and Lewis, for the first Northern Black regiment, the Massachusetts 54th regiment.
[Douglass] I now, for the first time during this war, feel of liberty to call and counsel you to arms.
I urge you to fly to arms and smite with death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave.
(people shouting) (weapons firing) (somber music) [Taylor] The tide of the war changes - with the fall of Atlanta, with Lincoln's eventual victory in early November, 1864.
His re-election has guaranteed that he's going to now bring this war to a close and slavery will end across the board.
[Griffin] The fact that a radical fugitive slave has the ear of the president means that, ultimately, that president became a very smart person.
It is to his credit that he learned to listen to Frederick Douglass.
I think, it also says something about the crises in which Lincoln found himself, that he had to listen to and then was willing to listen to voices that would have seemed outside, that seemed radical.
That...that's the lesson of a Lincoln presidency and a lesson of the possibilities of transformative change.
You don't get transformative change by not listening to the radicalness of a Douglass.
(suspenseful music) [Douglass] To all appearance, we were on the eve of a restoration of the Union, and a solid and lasting peace.
A country redeemed and regenerated from the foulest crime against human nature that ever saw the sun.
What a bright vision of peace, prosperity, and happiness.
[Morris] After the Civil War, Frederick believed that it was a new founding of our country.
He had hope through the Amendments - the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment - that his people would be making progress.
(dark introspective music) [Douglass] The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.
The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence.
It must do this, or it does nothing.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
[Spires] It's hard to pinpoint a moment in Douglass' life when he wasn't a danger, especially to structures of white supremacy and enslavement.
Douglass, through and through, was a revolutionary.
You want a handbook of how to be successful in this world?
You want a handbook on how to advocate for Black rights, for justice, how to navigate really thorny moral, spiritual, political, legal issues?
Read Douglass' life.
He walks you through how he does that.
(dramatic music) [Morris] Frederick Douglass was a Renaissance man.
He was the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States, first African American U.S.
Marshal, first African American Ambassador and Consul General in Haiti, and people would ask him, you know, "Frederick, where did you go to school?
Where did you get your education?"
And he would take a line from his anti-slavery lecture circuit days and say, "My degree is written on my back."
[Bonner] Frederick Douglass helps us understand the history of American freedom in a really complicated way.
The fact that he was born a slave in this country that was supposedly defined by liberty reflects the limitations of freedom as a real experience.
But it also shows us the possibilities of...of freedom as...as a tool to advocate for not only liberty, but also justice.
[Chatelain] Frederick Douglass moved from being a mirror to hold up to the nation about its failures to becoming a lens for future generations to understand their own public service, to understand their own commitment to justice, to understand why bravery is so important.
And so, Frederick Douglass challenges us to become the fullest expression of ourselves and our ideals.
[Griffin] Douglass is one of the most complicated people in our history, and just when you think, you know him is an invitation to come and know him more.
And he's one of the few Black Americans or Americans of any race who left so much for us to read and engage so that he's still, in some ways, directing us...uh... as we...as we try to learn more about him.
[Douglass] I have lived several lives in one: the life of slavery; the life of a fugitive from slavery; the life of comparative freedom; the life of conflict and battle; and, the life of victory.
I am impressed with a sense of completeness, a sort of rounding up of the arch to the point where the keystone may be inserted, the scaffolding removed, and the work, with all its perfections or faults, left to speak for itself.
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