**Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History**
Named one of the Best Books of 2018 by The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Smithsonian Magazine.
“Extraordinary…a great American biography” (The New Yorker) of the most important African-American of the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.
As a young man Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.
Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, using his own story to condemn slavery. By the Civil War, Douglass had become the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. After the war he sometimes argued politically with younger African Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights.
In this “cinematic and deeply engaging” (The New York Times Book Review) biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers. “Absorbing and even moving…a brilliant book that speaks to our own time as well as Douglass’s” (The Wall Street Journal), Blight’s biography tells the fascinating story of Douglass’s two marriages and his complex extended family. “David Blight has written the definitive biography of Frederick Douglass…a powerful portrait of one of the most important American voices of the nineteenth century” (The Boston Globe).
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Yale professor David W. Blight’s exhaustively researched books on slavery and the Civil War broaden our understanding of America’s complicated relationship with race. With Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom—a 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner—the historian takes an even deeper dive into the intellectual and personal life of the influential 19th-century abolitionist. Delving into Douglass’ personal papers, Blight crafts a complex portrait of a man he considers a “radical thinker” and helps us connect Douglass’ views to those who came later, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Barack Obama.
Yale historian Blight's study of runaway slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass a "radical patriot" and "prophet of freedom," a "great voice of America's terrible transformation from slavery to freedom" benefits not only from Blight's decadeslong immersion in the history of American slavery and abolitionism, but also from his access to privately owned sources unavailable to previous scholars. To Blight, Douglass's character and ideology were rife with paradox, and in this huge and meticulously detailed study he unpacks apparent contradictions: Douglass's unexpected happiness as an urban slave in Baltimore; his devotion to his wife, Anna, and their children, whom he rarely saw due to his constant travels as an abolitionist orator; his love for the promise he saw in America and hatred of how slavery had degraded it; his repeated revisions of his autobiographical writings as he reinterpreted his experiences; his second marriage to a white woman, an act both socially transgressive and opposed by his children. The Douglass who emerges from this massive work is not always heroic, or even likable, but Blight illuminates his personal struggles and achievements to emphasize what an extraordinary person he was. Though one might wonder, given Douglass's extensive writings and the numerous works of scholarship discussing him, about the need for yet another biography, it turns out that there was much more to be learned about him.