Cover image for Frederick Douglass : for the great family of man
Frederick Douglass : for the great family of man
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2003.
Physical Description:
viii, 226 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm.
A biography of the runaway slave who became an abolitionist, a crusader for women's rights, and an advisor to Abraham Lincoln.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 921 DOUGLASS 1 1

On Order



Here in a swift and compelling narrative, Peter Burchard tells the story of the greatest black American of the nineteenth century, a pioneer who laid down a firm foundation for all men and women who came after him.As a child and as a youth, Frederick Douglass was a slave, but his intelligence, his resilient character, and his innate charm, together with a measure of good fortune, made it possible for him to rise above a state of servitude. He became a forceful speaker and persuasive writer and conducted a campaign to abolish slavery and secure civil rights for his people and for all Americans. He saw himself as a soldier in a battle for the dignity of the "great family of man."This new biography presents Douglass as he lived through the misery, tragedy, and heartbreak of his early years, as he escaped from slavery only to endure anxiety and outrage in the free states of the North. He eventually made his way to Great Britain, where he lectured forcefully against slavery.In the United States, as the Civil War began, Douglass recruited young black men to fight and die for their freedom and the freedom of their brothers held in bondage in the South. He became a friend and counselor to presidents, senators, and governors.Here is a full-length portrait of this strong and passionate American.

Author Notes

Peter Burchard is the author of more than twenty-five books -- both fiction and nonfiction -- for young readers and adults. The last of these is Lincoln and Slavery, published in 1999. He is the author of One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment, a major historical source for the motion picture Glory, which won three Academy Awards. Two of his books were ALA Notable Books

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Burchard's (One Gallant Rush; Lincoln and Slavery) biography begins with a momentous event in Douglass's life-his chance meeting with William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist paper, The Liberator, whose articles had already greatly influenced Douglass. The author then chronicles Douglass's life from childhood, citing specific examples that would lead to his escape from slavery and his fight for its abolition, as well as for the rights of what he called "the great family of man." The author compellingly demonstrates Douglass's influence not only within the abolitionist movement but also the suffrage and international labor movements. The narrative incorporates quotes liberally, from Douglass's own newspaper, memoirs and speeches, and to great effect. To demonstrate Frederick's realization at the age of six or seven that he would eventually have to leave the shelter of his grandmother's modest home, the author cites this quote from Douglass: "The fact is, such was my dread of leaving the little cabin, that I wished to remain little forever, for I knew the taller I grew the shorter my stay." Black-and-white photographs and primary documents (e.g., advertisements for runaways) highlight the risks undertaken by young Frederick, who covertly learned to read and write from his master's wife, challenged an overseer and eventually escaped, disguised as a merchant sailor. Burchard lays bare the complexities of the times, exposing the blemishes of the antislavery leaders, some of whom used Douglass to further their own prominence, plus Douglass's personal struggles, such as his increasingly loveless marriage. Though Burchard provides an effective survey of the events leading up to the Civil War, this wider scope occasionally distracts from the fascinating subject of Douglass himself. However, an epilogue brings this compelling volume sharply back into focus. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Middle School, High School) Burchard begins this thoroughly researched biography with Frederick Douglass's first encounter with William Lloyd Garrison at a Nantucket meeting of abolitionists in 1841, at which Garrison's powerful speech inspired Douglass as a speechmaker and writer. Burchard then backtracks to Douglass's childhood and young adult years in slavery and his escape from Maryland to Massachusetts. Details of his adult life and concurrent larger events--the abolitionist movement, Lincoln's evolving views, the Civil War, and the postwar problems of freed slaves--form a complex story that is well told here. A life spent as orator seems an unlikely prospect today, yet this eloquent spokesman bolstered the campaign of the suffragists, prompted the deliberations of the President, and widely influenced European and American thought. Burchard sketches the complexities of Douglass's family life and important friendships with men and women, occasionally foreshadowing events and often adding footnoted explanations. Photographs and prints and a generous bibliography and endnotes augment the well-crafted narrative. Paired with Burchard's earlier Lincoln and Slavery (rev. 7/99), this engaging account becomes an impressive exploration of the historical forces of the nineteenth century. Index not seen. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-12. This highly attractive, readable biography weaves together Douglass' dramatic personal story--his youth as a slave, his escape, his world-renown as abolitionist speaker and writer, and his support for women's rights--with a general history of the struggle against slavery through the end of the Civil War. Drawing on the vast scholarship about Douglass and his time, Burchard discusses Douglass' memoirs and also adds to them, including details about Douglass' relationship with John Brown and President Lincoln. On a personal level, he describes Douglass' devotion as a father; his troubled relationship with his first wife, Anna; and the criticism he received when he later married a white woman. Burchard quotes scholars, including Henry Louis Gates Jr., who suggest that the memoirs may not always be entirely accurate, but he points out that they do tell the truth about the anguish of slavery. What this biography shows is the undeniable charisma of the abolitionist whose personal experience enabled him to speak with eloquence and authority. The book design is spacious, with occasional prints and photos, and a detailed bibliographic essay and chapter notes. --Hazel Rochman

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-Douglass was best known for his unflinching work for the human rights of all blacks in the years before the Civil War. In Burchard's biography, readers see his advocacy and are given a glimpse into his personal life and his work outside the United States to bring equality to blacks (and other oppressed groups) all over the world. Beginning with Douglass's early life with his grandmother, the author takes readers through many of the significant events that shaped the famous orator, including his own escape from slavery when he was 18 and his relationship with Abraham Lincoln. The source notes and lengthy bibliography lend credibility to this biography. Students may struggle with the barrage of names that appear throughout the book, but ultimately, this is a solid resource that enables readers to see the many facets of the subject's personality.-Lynn Evarts, Sauk Prairie High School, Prairie du Sac, WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A deeply flawed biography of the abolitionist leader points out the crying need for better sourcing and documentation in children's nonfiction. Burchard, a writer for both adults (One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment, 1965, etc.) and children (Lincoln and Slavery, 1999, etc.), sacrifices scholarly integrity for character development in his attempt to bring Douglass to life. The early parts of the narrative rely heavily--according to chapter notes, almost exclusively at times--on Douglass's own memoirs, which many scholars suspect were fictionalized for effect. The author himself notes this in one of the chapter notes, going on to state, however, that "Douglass did not exaggerate agonies of the kind endured by many slaves throughout the South." Despite this qualification, in the body of the text Douglass's memoirs are summarized without comment, allowing the reader who does not opt to check the chapter notes to believe that everything described actually happened. This tendency to summarize can at times stretch into virtual paraphrase and results in wildly emotive language that is 19th-century melodrama at its worst: "because Esther was so beautiful, Anthony lusted after her himself and was driven to the depths of jealousy." All too often the author moves into assertions about his subjects' feelings and motivations that are not supported by the original. It should be noted that once Burchard moves into Douglass's later life, about which there are many more sources, the account takes on a much more moderate and objective tone. Still, the sketchiness of the chapter notes (simply referring readers interested in particular subjects to the appropriate volumes in the bibliography without any more specific direction) leaves many assertions virtually uncheckable ("Douglass, with a faint smile on his lips, faced his audience . . . "--who took those notes?). The narrative takes Douglass and the reader up to the end of the Civil War; an epilogue wraps up the remainder of his life, including discreet coverage of his long affair with German journalist Ottilie Assing. Why is there an assumption that children's nonfiction need not adhere to the same scholarly rigors as adult nonfiction? They certainly deserve better than this. (bibliography, index, notes) (Biography. 12+)



Nantucket On Tuesday, August 10, 1841, Frederick Douglass, three years a fugitive from slavery, paced the top deck of the ferry that was taking him from New Bedford to the island of Nantucket. At twenty-three, he stood above the six-foot mark and, having labored in shipyards in Maryland and Massachusetts, was both broad and muscular. His skin was golden brown. His wide forehead and prominent cheekbones framed dark and penetrating eyes, a broad nose, and a generous mouth. His hands were tough and leathery. With Douglass on the little steamer was a large and sometimes boisterous crowd of passengers, most of them white, some of them black. All but a few were abolitionists -- men and women speaking out against the cruelties of slavery in the South and prejudice and racial violence in the North. Most were firm believers in nonviolence. Earlier that morning, in a strong but peaceful demonstration in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the white majority had gained for their black friends the right to travel with them on the upper deck and in the cabin of the steamer. Douglass was physically imposing, yet, because he was a runaway, there was something tentative in his manner. He nurtured a vain hope that in such a gathering, he might be inconspicuous. He spoke only when spoken to and, standing on the fringes of the crowd, listened to debates on slavery and abolition, one of which was between a slaveholder from New Orleans and a Massachusetts minister. Douglass left the crowd, leaned on the rail, and watched several low-lying coastal islands rise up, then disappear in the translucent summer mist. He stared down at the steamer's wake as it fanned out, thinned, and dissolved in the dark waters of Nantucket Sound. As he had in his childhood on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he paid close attention to the white sails passing -- canvas giving life and purpose to the tall ships and the fleets of fishing boats. Nantucket first appears as a thin violet haze, floating just above the far horizon. The island, an outpost of a windswept coast, is covered in wild rose and pine and twisted oak. In the nineteenth century, a brightly painted lightship warned the captains of the sailing ships and steamers not to wander from a course well north of Nantucket Shoals, where lay the skeletons of vessels lost in hurricanes and winter storms. Douglass and the other passengers watched as the ferry made its way between two parallel breakwaters and approached a spindly wharf, where linesmen waited to secure the steamer and where islanders were waving at arriving passengers. Houses and public buildings covered a low ridge above the waterfront. Most of them were shingled structures rendered gray by salt and sun. Some were pink brick with slate roofs and white-painted doors and trim. On the horizon, bright against a dark-blue sky, stood a row of widely separated steeples and windmills. Douglass had come to Nantucket to attend an abolitionist convention, but did not intend to speak or to reveal his slave name or his history. For three years, he had toiled night and day, and he hoped that his first visit to Nantucket might serve as a short vacation. As he stepped down the gangplank, he was painfully aware that -- under a federal law passed in 1793 -- he might be captured and returned to slavery. True, in recent years the law had seldom been enforced in New England, but pressure had begun to build for passage of a stronger law. Douglass later summed up his predicament: "In the northern states, a fugitive slave [was] liable to be hunted at any moment, like a felon, and to be hurled into the terrible jaws of slavery." Indeed, for Douglass, a return to Maryland would almost certainly be followed by banishment to the deep South, from which escape would be almost impossible. He walked with other members of the party to New Guinea, a neighborhood occupied by free black Americans, Portuguese from the Azores, and Kanakas from the Sandwich Islands -- now the islands of Hawaii. These were people who had settled in Nantucket when the whaling industry was at its peak, in the century before. Douglass probably stayed with a family in New Guinea, but in any case, on the night of his arrival and for two days after that, he attended antislavery meetings in an undistinguished building called "the big shop," which served as a meeting place until completion of the Atheneum, six years later. There he listened to the routine business of the meetings and to vociferous attacks on slavery as practiced in America: the sale and purchase of black people, the breaking up of families, the whippings and related cruelties that were part and parcel of an institution seen by Douglass as degrading to slaveholders, as well as to their human property, an evil that had undermined and was threatening to destroy democracy. Most white people present, some of them from privileged families, knew black people only as inferiors -- as servants, laborers, and craftsmen. More important, they had never witnessed slavery. They were men and women of good will, but most of them took a condescending or at best paternalistic view of both slaves and free black Americans. It was on the evening of the second day that Douglass suddenly, almost rudely, found himself in the limelight. Unknown to him, there was someone in the auditorium who had heard him speak not long before. Years later, he recalled, "Mr. William C. Coffin, a prominent abolitionist in those days of trial, had heard me speaking to my colored friends, in the little school-house on Second Street in New Bedford, where we worshiped." At the convention in Nantucket, Coffin sought Douglass out and invited him to make a few remarks. Douglass agreed, but not yet a seasoned speaker, he was terrified at the prospect of addressing such a large and distinguished audience: "I trembled in every limb....It was with the utmost difficulty that I could stand erect, or that I could command and articulate two words without hesitation and stammering." Even as a little boy, Douglass had been noticed as possessing keen intelligence; but it was not his wit that made him stand out that day in Nantucket, it was his emotion bursting forth out of a clear memory of the life that he had led as a young slave in his native Maryland. Nobody took notes on his speech, and Douglass remembered nothing of its content. But it was clear that his excitement and confusion were contagious. When he stepped down from the platform, the audience broke into wild applause. Stunned, then elated, Douglass went back to his seat. No sooner had he settled down than a small, pale, balding man in his mid-thirties, wearing wire-rimmed glasses stood up and moved swiftly down the aisle toward the podium. As the man began to speak, tears glistened in his eyes. This, Douglass knew, was William Lloyd Garrison, the most conspicuous of New England abolitionists, publisher of a weekly paper called The Liberator. Douglass had heard Garrison address an antislavery gathering in New Bedford. He had read The Liberator and had marveled at its editorials, some of which attacked the United States Constitution and called into question the morality of commerce in both the North and the South. "The paper," he wrote later, "became my meat and my drink." It set his soul "all on fire." Its attacks on intolerance and slavery "sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!" The short speech Douglass made that Wednesday evening has been lost, but Garrison, who had spent most of his adult life fighting slavery, said of Douglass's demonstration of emotion, "I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment." Douglass remembered, "Mr. Garrison followed me, taking me as his text." Even those who knew Garrison and had heard him often "were astonished." His speech, Douglass thought, "was an effort of unequaled power, sweeping down, like a very tornado, every opposing barrier." Garrison raised emotion in the hall to a high pitch. At first, speaking quietly, he asked, "Have we been listening to a thing, a piece of property, or a man? "A man! A man!" Garrison raised his voice as he asked, "And should such a man be held a slave in a republican and Christian land?" Almost in a single voice, the audience shouted, "Never!" Douglass hadn't mentioned his slave name or the names of people he had known in Maryland, but it was clear that in speaking as he had, he had risked being jailed in Massachusetts and returned to slavery. Garrison spoke of this risk, spoke of Douglass as a man of strength and talent; then, in an insistent voice, he asked, "Shall such a man be sent back to slavery from the soil of old Massachusetts?" The people in the crowded hall gave voice to their outrage. "Never!" Douglass saw that he had had a powerful effect on Garrison, and Garrison knew that Douglass could be useful to his cause. "It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr. Douglass could be persuaded to consecrate his time and talents to the...anti-slavery enterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, and a stunning blow at the same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a colored complexion." Douglass's halting speech, his deep embarrassment, his eloquence -- all duly noted by the veteran Garrison and by others in the hall -- marked a momentous turning point in the life of the young fugitive. Later, Douglass said, "Here opened upon me a new life -- a life for which I had had no preparation." Douglass may have had no formal preparation for his new life, but his years in bondage were to give him an advantage over white crusaders and most of their free black counterparts. This advantage would, in time, make some of them jealous. Text copyright © 2003 by Peter Burchard Excerpted from Frederick Douglass: For the Great Family of Man by Peter Burchard All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Author's Notep. xi
Chapter 1 Nantucketp. 1
Chapter 2 Those Songs Still Follow Mep. 8
Chapter 3 Oh, Have Mercy!p. 17
Chapter 4 Look Up, Childp. 26
Chapter 5 Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Growp. 34
Chapter 6 The Dark Night of Slaveryp. 45
Chapter 7 Take Hold of Him!p. 53
Chapter 8 We are Betrayedp. 57
Chapter 9 Annap. 63
Chapter 10 All Aboard!p. 71
Chapter 11 Because You are Blackp. 79
Chapter 12 The Great Family of Manp. 89
Chapter 13 What Have We to do with Slavery?p. 97
Chapter 14 The North Starp. 107
Chapter 15 Let Woman Take Her Rights!p. 119
Chapter 16 A Steel Trapp. 131
Chapter 17 God be Praised!p. 141
Chapter 18 Path of Gloryp. 154
Chapter 19 In the Presence of an Honest Manp. 165
Chapter 20 Free at Lastp. 174
Epiloguep. 183
Bibliographical Essayp. 199
Notes on Sourcesp. 203
Bibliographyp. 211
Photograph Credits & Permissionsp. 219
Indexp. 221