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Happy 200th birthday, Frederick Douglass


ROCHESTER -- Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of one of Rochester's favorite sons.

Although he was born in Maryland and died in Washington, DC, Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey on Feb. 14, 1818) spent 25 years in Rochester and was buried here following his death in 1895 at 77 years of age.

Born into slavery, Douglass escaped in 1838 and became a social reformer and statesman, as well as a national leader of the abolitionist movement thanks to his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writings.

While we celebrate his birthday today, Douglass himself didn't know his birthday. He simply chose Feb. 14 as the date to celebrate it. In his first autobiography, he stated, "I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it."

Not only is his birthday of his own choosing, but even his name -- Douglass -- was one he declared himself, from the primary character in the poem, "The Lady of the Lake."

Douglass moved to Rochester around 1843, taking on a career as a newspaper publisher. His four-page weekly newspaper, the North Star, heralded the abolitionist movement.

In 1848, Douglass was the only African American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, saying that he could not accept the right to vote as a black man if women could not also claim that right. He suggested that the world would be a better place if women were involved in the political sphere.

In 1872, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States, as Victoria Woodhull's running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket, reportedly nominated without his knowledge or acknowledgement. However, as presidential elector at large for the State of New York, he took the state's vote to DC.

Sadly, in that same year, his home on South Avenue burned down, a suspected arson. After that, he moved to Washington, D.C. where he lived until his death in 1895.

He is buried in the Mt. Hope Cemetery, where they have maps directing would-be visitors to his grave site.

Graphic illustration by MMDesign716

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