ASALH has dedicated its 103rd Black History Month to “black migration.” The Association for the Study of African American Life and History documents the black experience throughout American history. Countless blacks have fled from slavery or poverty or racism. Frederick Douglass “migrated” on the Underground Railroad in 1838.
Frederick “Bailey” escaped from slavery in Maryland in disguise. He changed his last name, but always kept the name Frederick…his “identity”. He made a well-documented journey, by train and ship, via New York City and Newport RI. There, two Quakers helped him and his new wife take a stage coach to New Bedford. Frederick adopted his last and final surname, Douglass, in that busy whaling city.
Within two years, he cast his first election vote. This posed considerable risk, because another man “owed” him. Not only did he continue to vote, he spoke publicly about everyone’s right to vote. Douglass understood that one cannot leave the matter of government to others and still have a democracy. He spoke out loudly and well. In 1883, Douglass addressed the National Convention of Colored Men in Louisville KY. “We hold it to be self-evident that no class or color should be the exclusive rulers of the country. If there is such a ruling class there must of course be a subject class, and when this condition is once established this government by the people, of the people, and for the people will have already perished from the earth.”
New Bedford was not Frederick Douglass’ last home. He continued his migration, but now as a free and famous speaker. His message endures. One lesson we must never forget: Get out and vote.
In honor of Frederick Douglass, brave migrator, ABLE is proud to make a contribution to ASALH during Black History Month.