Famous Person: Frederick Douglass

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Grade Level: 5th/ 6th

Author: Kimberly Forman




Time Allotment

Resources Needed


Additional Activities



Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Like most other slaves, Frederick knew little about his birthday or his age. He had never seen any record of his birth. Between what his grandmother and other slaves had told him, he figured he was born between 1817 and 1818.

Frederick's mother was Harriet Bailey and it was rumored that his father was a white man, whom he never even met. He was separated from his mother at a very young age and saw her no more than four or five times throughout his lifetime. He was often told that his master was his father, but his master did not treat any differently than any other slave.

Frederick grew up being exposed to the harsh realities of slave life. He witnessed the monthly allowance of food and yearly clothing supplies. Men and women were given eight pounds of pork or fish and one bushel of cornmeal each month. Two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers, one pair of stockings, and one pair of shoes were given to the slaves on a yearly basis. The slave children's allowance was given to their mothers and only consisted of little food and two linen shirts. Slave life was cruel and demeaning. Slaves had no beds and were rarely given blankets for warmth. Many slaves suffered from hunger and cold.

Frederick was put out to work at young age. Because he was too little to do field work, he was put to work helping around the house. He had to drive up the cows in the evening and keep the fowls out of the garden. He was also put in charge of keeping the front yard clean and running errands for the master's daughter.

When Frederick was about seven or eight years old, he was sent to help out his master's son-in-law in Baltimore. His new mistress was Mrs. Auld. She was very kind and cheerful to Frederick and began teaching him his ABC's. Mr. Auld, his new master, became angry at Frederick's attempt to learn and soon forbade his wife to teach Frederick any more lessons. Frederick was determined to learn all that he could. He learned quickly how to make friends with the white boys in the town and he persuaded them to teach him what they were learning in their lessons. During his educational pursuits, he became aware of the fact that he was a slave and would be a slave for life. He just didn't understand why and how one person could own another. He wanted his freedom and he continued to pursue his education in search of a way to gain his freedom.

Beatings were very common during a slave's life. Slaves were beaten by their masters or overseers for many things and this did not exclude Frederick. He witnessed his own aunt being whipped for leaving the master's property and he greatly feared of what would happen to him if he ever upset the master. Frederick was beaten several times, but most severely by Mr. Covey, one of his overseers. He did not feel that it was right to be beaten for things that didn't really matter. One day he stood up for himself and fought back against Mr. Covey. Mr. Covey never beat him again. This was his one of his first steps of resistance.

Frederick planned to escape from his master on one occasion and was turned in by another slave. He knew that his freedom was important and he continued to find a way to escape. He worked as an apprentice doing caulking work, earning $1.50 each day which he paid to his master. His master would give him a few cents here and there to motivate him to work harder. This motivated Frederick to save what he had and escape.

Frederick escaped to New York, a free state, in September 1838. He took a great risk because he could forcibly be returned to master if he were ever caught. He married Anna Murray and changed his name three times. He always kept his first name of Frederick to help him hold onto his identity, but his last name went from Bailey to Stanley, Johnson, and finally Douglass. Frederick saved up $700 and eventually purchased his freedom.

Frederick Douglass believed strongly in all people having their freedom. He spoke out at his first anti-slavery meeting in August 1841. He wanted to plead for the cause of his brethren. He wrote three autobiographies and was publisher and editor of the North Star. The North Star was a newspaper that persuaded others to see Frederick's views on freeing slaves. He believed that men of different races could live together peacefully.

Besides fighting for the rights of all people, Frederick fought for women's rights and took a stand for African Americans to fight in the civil war. He was a strong activist that fought for other's rights until February 20, 1895, the day he died.


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Activists. (1994). The Grolier Library Collection of North American

Biographies. Danbury, CT: Grolier Educational Corporation.


Douglass, Frederick. (1974). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:

An American Slave. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Huggins, Nathan Irvin. (1980). Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass.

Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.

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1. Students will be able to identify three important aspects of slave life.

2. Students will be able to describe important events in the life of

Frederick Douglass.

3. Students will be able to identify at least two contributions made by

Frederick Douglass and write them in their reflective journals.

4. Students will be able to demonstrate their personal beliefs by creating

a class newspaper.

5. Students will be able to identify their personal qualities and the

contributions for which they would like to be remembered for.

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Time Allotment: Approximately 7 to 10 class periods.

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Resources Needed:

Chbosky, Stacy. (1988). Who Owns The Sun? Kansas City, MS: Landmark

Editions, Inc.

Picture of Frederick Douglass

Pages 74-77 of the Grolier Activist book.

Writing Paper

Magazines, newspapers, posterboard, markers, glue

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1. K-W-L. K, W, and L will be written on the board. Students will discuss what they know about slavery, what they want to learn about slavery, and at the end of the unit, what they have learned about slavery.

2. Literature and Guided Discussion. Share the book, Who Owns The Sun?, By Stacy Chbosky. Discuss what the main character is concerned about. Also discuss what the character is feeling throughout the story. The story leads into a great discussion on slavery. Bring up the slavery issues and the impact that it had on the lives of those who were involved.

3. Mini-Lecture. Introduce Frederick Douglass. Discuss the impact that slavery had on his life and how he overcame it. Talk about other slavery problems and bring out the important things in the life of Frederick Douglass.

4. Guest Speaker. Invite a colleague or friend to come dressed up as a friend of Frederick Douglass. Have the person wear clothing similar to that worn during the period Douglass was alive. The teacher will conduct an interview with the "friend" and help the students gain a larger perspective of Frederick Douglass. Have a picture of Frederick on the board for students to see. Students should take notes on what the guest speaker is saying. Reinforce the contributions that Douglass made during his lifetime. If time permits, have students come up with questions of their own to ask the guest.

5. Numbered Heads Together. Put students into small groups of four or five people. Have the students number off within their groups. Each student will read the information on Pages 74-74 of the Grolier Activist, biographies. As a group, the students will discuss the questions at the end of the reading and each person will be responsible for knowing the answers. Give students a quiz. Call out a number from one to five and that person from the group will have to answer the question that was asked. Each student will turn in an answer sheet.

Examples of Questions: Who taught Frederick how to read and write?

What was Frederick's life like as a slave? What other causes besides slavery, did Frederick fight for? What does abolitionist mean?

How is the reading different than the discussions we had in class?

6. Class Newspaper. Discuss the importance of the papers that Douglass wrote during his lifetime. He wrote three autobiographies and was publisher and editor for the North Star newspaper. Explain the he wrote the newspaper to share his strong views towards improving the lives of slaves. He thought that he could help himself and others if he could make others aware of what was going on. Put the class into groups with six people in each group. Have the groups discuss some issues that are important to them ( e.g., recycling, respecting others, animal rights). Have each group write persuasive articles to put into the class newspaper. Have students include pictures, art work, quotes, and other research that will add to their arguments. Put all articles together and make a copy for every student in the class. Give each group an opportunity to share what they learned about their topic and why they chose it.

7. Character Webbing. Put together a character web of Frederick Douglass. Illustrate the characteristics with magazine pictures, words cut out of newspapers, and include representations of his contributions. Discuss the character web. Have the students create a character web of their own about themselves. They should include positive things that they like about themselves and also some thing that they would like others to remember about them. The students should think about what kinds of contributions they would like to leave with the world. Encourage students to use magazines, pictures, words, and art to illustrate their web. Display the character webs around the classroom.

8. Reflective Journal. Have students write a one page summary on the things that they have learned from the unit and how it will help them in the future. Have the students include two of the contributions that Douglass made during his lifetime and write why they feel that they are important.

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Additional Activities:

1. Geography. Set up a map that will show the United States during the time of slavery. Discuss the states that were free for slaves and those that were slave states. Have the students color in the areas on their maps, using a different color to separate the views of the north and the south.

2. Guided Discussion. Guide students through a discussion on what they have learned about slavery and the life of Frederick Douglass. Discuss what was liked best and what was difficult to understand. Discuss topics and subtopics that students would have liked to discuss in more detail.

3. Write A Speech. Frederick Douglass gave many anti-slavery speeches during his lifetime. Have students write a speech in their reflective journals about something that they would do to change the world. Share the speeches in small groups.

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1. K-W-L- will be assessed informally through discussions.

2. Mini-lecture and guest speaker will be assessed through written student notes and informal question and answer sessions.

3. Numbered Heads will be assessed by groups correctly answering questions on the quizzes. Grading will be done on a group basis.

4. Class newspaper will be assessed according to content, neatness, and group participation.

5. Character webbing will be assessed by student posters and discussions.

6. Reflective Journals with one page summaries will be assessed.

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