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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Selected Books by and about Frederick Douglass

(In chronological order)
(* denotes resources I have)

Frederick Douglass

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845 *
    Douglass’ first autobiography details slave life in Maryland, his life in Baltimore, his failed escape attempt and subsequent successful one, and beginning of freedom in Rochester. Concludes with a blistering attack on American Christianity.
  • My Bondage and My Freedom,1855 *
    In his second biography, Douglass provided more details of his life as a slave and explored his activities as an anti-slavery crusader.
  • Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881, revised 1892 *
    Douglass’ final biography provides details of his escape that he deliberately omitted in 1845, and takes his life story through his service in Haiti. Life and Times is much more reflective — and less angry — than his earlier two works. By no means was Douglass resting on his laurels (at least in my reading) but was providing explanations, details, expositions and more that reflected his entire life.
  • North Star newspaper and Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 1847-1860
  • The Heroic Slave, 1852
    This is Douglass’ only foray into fiction. The Heroic Slave tells the tale of Madison Washington, a slave who makes a bid for freedom.

Frederick May Holland, Frederick Douglass: The Colored Orator, 1891, 1895

Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, 1906
I haven’t read this one yet; but Rayford Logan of Howard University, writing in the 1962 re-issue of Life and Times, notes that Washington’s book “reveals the author’s ambivalent interpretation of Douglass.”

Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass, 1947
This excellent biography portrays Douglass as “neither demi-god nor demagogue,” according to Professor Rayford Logan of Howard University, in the 1962 re-issue of Life and Times.

Shirley Graham, There Was Once a Slave: The Heroic Story of Frederick Douglass, 1947
This readable volume won its publisher’s award for “Best Book Combating Intolerance in America.”

Philip Sheldon Foner, The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, 1950
Foner provides an excellent selection of Douglass’ writings, originally published in five volumes. I’d consider it indispensible, despite the heavy Marxist leanings/interpretations of the editor.

Benjamin Quarles, ed., Frederick Douglass, part of the Great Lives Observed series, 1968
This interesting volume, edited by a Douglass biographer, explores Douglass from several angles: “Douglass Looks at the World,” the “World Looks at Douglass,” and “Douglass in History.”

Nathan Irvin Huggins and Oscar Handlin, Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass, 1980

William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 1991. *

Robert S. Levine, Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity, 1997

James L. Colaiaco, Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July, 2007
This is an excellent exposition of Douglass’ speech given on the fifth of July in 1852. Douglass thundered against an America that preached freedom by countenanced slavery. “What to the Negro is your fourth of July?” Douglass asked quite truthfully. Colaiaco’s book is also a fine entry among a spate of recent books examining key speeches in American history. (For example, two recent books examined Lincoln’s 1860 Cooper Union speech.)

Paul Kendrick, Douglass and Lincoln: How a Revolutionary Black Leader and a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery and Save the Union, 2007

James Oaks, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Anti-Slavery Politics, 2007 *
As with Kendrick’s book, Oaks explores the political relationship between Lincoln and Douglass. Oaks’ book is more by the numbers than Kendrick’s, but was very well-received.

John Stauffer, Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, 2008 *
Stauffer takes the parallel lives of Lincoln and Douglass further and declares them the two greatest self-made men of America, and that the idea of the self-made man is no longer possible. I don’t fully agree with that, because many other men can and do fit that bill. Many men, such as Ulysses S. Grant and Ronald Reagan, rose from nothing to the heights of power. Meanwhile, Douglass himself argued against the self-made man, saying in a speech that no man is independent of the previous generation and no man can fully lift himself up on his own. Still, it is fascinating how much Douglass and Lincoln’s lives paralleled each other.

Peter C. Myers, Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism, 2008

For youths:
Numerous youth-oriented books about Douglass pepper libraries across America, targeting juvenile and teen audiences. Two of the better ones are:
William Miller, Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery (1995)
Maryann Weidt, Voice of Freedom: a Story about Frederick Douglass (2001)

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