The Public Interest

The spirit of a free man

Diana Schaub

Summer 2000

THE life and writings of Frederick Douglass are far from forgotten.  For the last 30 years, the figure of Frederick Douglass has been a textbook staple. Every schoolchild can be presumed to have heard the dramatic story of the runaway slave become abolitionist leader, to have gazed upon his leonine visage, and read at least a boxed excerpt from one of his three autobiographies. In the better high schools, Douglass’s first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, is often assigned as supplementary reading (sadly, even when high schools assign primary texts, they are viewed as supplementary, not primary). Moreover, while it is fashionable to draw attention to the clay feet of other American greats (to the point of slinging mud onto them if need be), Frederick Douglass still receives the hero’s treatment. 

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