47. Written by Himself: the Life of Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass' journey from slave to leading figure of 19th century American thought.



Further Reading

• J.W. Blassingame, The Frederick Douglass Papers (New Haven: 1979-).

• P.S. Foner (ed.), The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, 5 vols (New York: 1950-75).

• P.S. Foner (ed.), Frederick Douglass on Women’s Rights (Westport CN: 1976).

• H.L. Gates Jr. (ed.), Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies (New York: 1994).


• W. Andrews (ed.), Critical Essays on Frederick Douglass (Boston: 1991).

• D. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: 2018).

• B. Boxill, "The Fight with Covey," in L.R. Gordon (ed), Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy (New York: 1997), 273-290.

• P. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: 1993), ch. 2.

• R. Gooding-Williams, In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought in America (Cambridge MA: 2009), ch.5.

• F.M. Kirkland, “Is an Existential Reading of the Fight with Covey Sufficient to Explain Frederick Douglass’s Critique of Slavery?” Critical Philosophy of Race 3 (2015), 124-151.

• B.M. Lawson and F.M. Kirkland (eds), Frederick Douglass: A Critical Reader (Oxford: 1999).

• M.S. Lee (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass (Cambridge: 2009).

• R.S. Levine, The Lives of Frederick Douglass (Cambridge MA: 2016).

• W.E. Martin, The Mind of Frederick Douglass (Chapel Hill NC: 1985).

• N. Roberts, Freedom as Marronage (Chicago: 2015), ch. 2.

• N. Roberts (ed.), A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass (Lexington: 2018).

• E. Sundquist (ed.), Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays (New York: 1990).

• F. Sweeney, Frederick Douglass and the Atlantic World (Liverpool: 2007).


Journal of African American History 99 (2014), Special Issue: “Rediscovering the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Frederick Douglass


Pat Daley on 14 August 2023

R. W. Emerson

It appears that a comparison of Douglass and Emerson on self-reliance is a popular essay topic in universities since a search reveals numerous hits on essay sites!

I have ordered Douglass's autobiographies (Gates, which you list).

Did Emerson every meet Douglass? He seems to have known about him according Robert D. Richardson, Jr.'s biography. (p. 270)

From what I can tell, for a good part of his life, Emerson was not at all sure that black Africans were equal to white European types, though he nevertheless still always opposed slavery.  There is an essay (no author!) in my copy of The Conduct of Life (no publisher) which I purchased from Amazon.ca.  But it seems to be correct.

Emerson seems to have delayed active opposition to slavery. Lidian seems to have come to the cause earlier, but the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1851 seems to have galvanized him.  Richardson says they became part of the Underground Railway (p.495). 

On the whole, I find Emerson a bit disappointing on social issues.  He wasn't much of a joiner, and he really doesn't seem to have much to say about collective action.  Self-reliance doesn't really cut it socially.

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