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3 Timeless Lessons Every Leader Should Learn from the Life of Frederick Douglass

Leaders can learn many lessons from the life of Frederick Douglass, America’s great 19th century abolitionist. Douglass is most known for advancing the cause of the abolitionist movement with his influential speeches and writings.

Lesson #1: The Importance of Education

Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. He knew very little about his father and his mother was a plantation slave, but he only saw her a few times before her death. He was moved to another plantation at a young age, where he secretly learned a few letters of the alphabet.

In 1838, Douglass escaped the plantation and ran away to New York with his bride. He focused his efforts on educating himself in preparation to speak and write against slavery.

Lesson #2: Live a Life of Courage and Wisdom

Douglass wrote an autobiography of his life as a slave and was forced to flee to Ireland for his safety. On a speaking tour in the United Kingdom, he grew in popularity and his followers bought his freedom. He returned to the United States a free man and delivered the influential speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” He quickly became known as the America’s best orator and abolitionist.

Lesson #3: Never Stop Fighting for What Is Right

He was an advisor to both President Abraham Lincoln and President Andrew Johnson on issues of slavery, treatment of African-American soldiers and the right to vote. After the Civil War, he continued to write and speak and even joined fight for women’s rights.

Many schools have honored his life’s work. University of Maryland’s Hornbake Library erected this eight-foot statue on Douglass in the university square.

Architect Dean David Cronrath said, “We’re a university that believes in truth and justice as being just as important as knowledge. It gives us something to believe in.”

Fredrick Douglass’ Most Beloved Quotes

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”

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Esther Laurie is a staff writer at churchleaders.com. Her background is in communication and church ministry. She believes in the power of the written word and the beauty of transformation and empowering others. When she’s not working, she loves running, exploring new places and time with friends and family. It’s her goal to work the word ‘whimsy’ into most conversations.