This year, the nation will commemorate the 200 birthday of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, better know as Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland, and despite a lack of formal education became a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, author and national statesmen. During his formative years, while traveling throughout the free states of the Northeast, a young Douglass bequeathed his voice to freedom for all people. In 1843--175 years ago--Buffalo hosted the first National Convention of Colored Citizens, from August 15-19, 1843. During a ten-day visit, Douglass made speeches in several locations, and made himself a force with which to reckoned at the convention.
In February 2015, I received a phone call, requesting the whereabouts of Frederick Douglass' speech given at Buffalo's Front Park in 1843. Tradition held that the former slave had visited the city in that year, and had given a speech in the "open park," which had come down through the decades as being either Front or Delaware parks. Despite an extensive search and consultation with colleagues, I was unable to find the Douglass speech.
One year later, research brought me back to 1843, when Buffalo also hosted the first National Convention of Colored Citizens. A group of 58 African American delegates arrived from 13 states as far south as North Carolina for the convention. During the four-day event, delegates drafted a progressive plan to uplift African American socially, politically and in the areas of education and employment. An examination of the roll of delegates in the convention minutes revealed, not surprisingly, that the New York State delegation was the largest with 33 delegates, including the Reverend George Weir, Sr, pastor of Buffalo's Vine Street A.M.E. Church, who would play a significant role in the convention. It also revealed a startling discovery--the name of "Fred Douglass" of Boston, MA. This proved that Douglass was, indeed, in Buffalo during the summer of 1843. Subsequent research has revealed important information regarding this defining period in his life, while also overturning a generations-old misconception about the location of his "open park" speech.
From Slave to Abolitionist
Born into slavery on the eastern shore of Maryland in Talbot County, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born about 1818, the sixth child of Hariett Bailey. He was taken from his mother at birth, and was raised by his grandmother, Betsey Bailey, at Holme Hill until he was six years old. Frederick's mother would walk through the night to visit her son several times, prior to her death in 1826. Growing up, Frederick endured many years of cruelty at the hands of several slave masters and overseers, including Captain Anthony, his first overseer, who was also believed to be his father. Sophia Auld, the wife of a later master, taught Frederick to read, but was forbidden to continue after being caught by her husband, Hugh. Frederick was hired out to work and travel as a slave, and would change his name several times before selecting a permanent surname. He used his birth...