Throughout February, we are offering Frederick Douglass and abolitionist-themed tours in honor of his birthday and Black History Month. These tours happen twice daily at 12:30 and 3:00 pm, and tour-goers will explore the whole museum while also gaining insight into Douglass and other abolitionists. Tours are included with museum admission, so there’s no extra cost. Read on to take a glimpse at some of the stops you’ll make along the tour.
Birth and Beginnings
Our tour starts, well, at the beginning. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in February of 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. His exact date of birth is unknown, as there is no record of it, but he later chose to celebrate it on February 14. Explore our Hometown Authors kiosk to learn about Douglass’s early life and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, one of our Author Home Affiliates.
Douglass in Chicago
Since we are in Chicago after all, the next stop on the tour is our Chicago Gallery. Frederick Douglass’s connection to Chicago rests mainly with fellow activist Ida B. Wells and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Douglass and Wells protested the lack of black representation at the World’s Fair, which failed to include any exhibitions featuring people of color. The two, along with other contributors, wrote and distributed The Reason Why, a pamphlet of essays detailing the historic evils of slavery, and also demonstrating the incredible progress people of color made in the brief time between the abolition of slavery and the World’s Fair, a mere 28 years. A facsimile of The Reason Why is on display in our special exhibit Frederick Douglass: Agitator, and pamphlets to take home with you are available in our gift shop.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Douglass published his autobiography in 1845 and it quickly became a bestseller and was critical in turning public opinion against slavery. In our Featured Works interactive table, you can explore this seminal work in-depth, learn about the persuasive writing techniques he employs, and even listen to the text read aloud. Due to its historic and cultural significance, we give free copies of this book to middle and high school students who visit on field trips as part of our education initiative Write In, which provides schools the opportunity to visit the museum free of charge.
Frederick Douglass: Agitator
Our special exhibit celebrates the breadth of Douglass’s activism. Not only did he fight for the abolition of slavery, but he also advocated for women’s rights, fair voting laws, equal education, and many more causes. Frederick Douglass was a true champion of civil rights, social equality and economic freedom of all forms as he understood the how closely these issues relate to one another. No matter the issue, Douglass was there to “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”
Throughout the tour, you’ll learn about the many American writers who were influenced by Douglass. From poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who befriended Douglass through their activism, to President Abraham Lincoln, who met with Douglass to discuss the rights of black soldiers fighting in the Civil War, Douglass was well-respected among his peers.
And now, his legacy lives on in activists who use their words and platforms to fight similar battles Douglass dealt with in his time, such as Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo Movement, and beyond. As Douglass famously said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.” Douglass planted the seeds of agitation, and the writers of today continue plowing up the ground toward progress.
Frederick Douglass Goes On a World Tour
Interested in learning more about the life of Frederick Douglass? Join us March 13 at 6:30 p.m. as we welcome author and historian Tom Chaffin to the museum to discuss his book Giant’s Causeway: Frederick Douglass’s Irish Odyssey and the Making of an American Visionary, which tells the story of Douglass’s 1845-47 lecture tour of the British Isles. This trip would prove pivotal in Douglass’s life and development as a worldwide celebrity and moral visionary. Learn more about the special program here.