August 11, 1841

Frederick Douglass First Addresses White Audience


On this day in 1841, Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave, addressed a white audience for the first time when he spoke to a gathering of abolitionists on Nantucket. "It was with the utmost difficulty that I could stand erect, or that I could command and articulate two words without hesitation and stammering," he later wrote. While his speech may have been halting, it had immediate impact. Leaders in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society invited him to work with them. He quickly established himself as a formidable orator. Within five years, Douglass had a national and international reputation. He wrote three autobiographies, edited several newspapers, took a leading role in the woman's movement, and served for over half a century as an untiring advocate for racial justice.

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