Frederick DouglassThe most famous black American anti-lavery leader and orator of the era, Frederick Douglass was born a slave on a Maryland plantation. It was his good fortune to be sent to relatively liberal Baltimore as a young man, where he learned to read and write. Escaping to Massachusetts in 1838, at age 21, Douglass was helped by abolitionist editor William Lloyd Garrison and began to lecture for anti-lavery societies.
In 1845, he published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (second version 1855, revised in 1892), the best and most popular of many "slave narratives." Often dictated by illiterate blacks to white abolitionists and used as propaganda, these slave narratives were well-known in the years just before the Civil War. Douglass's narrative is vivid and highly literate, and it gives unique insights into the mentality of slavery and the agony that institution caused among blacks.
The slave narrative was the first black literary prose genre in the United States. It helped blacks in the difficult task of establishing an African-American identity in white America, and it has continued to exert an important influence on black fictional techniques and themes throughout the 20th century. The search for identity, anger against discrimination, and sense of living an invisible, hunted, underground life unacknowledged by the white majority have recurred in the works of such 20th- century black American authors as Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison.