Of the many success stories that should not have been, Fred’s is certainly near the top of the all-time list. He was the product of rape and lost his Mother at a young age. He was raised by his abusive/rapist Father. The hate and animosity between the two was palatable.
Despite everything, Fred fell in love with Bible stories read to him by his Father’s wife. She even began teaching Fred how to read, until his angry Father put a stop to it. When, one day, he finally saw the chance to escape, Fred fled in search of independence and a better life.
Through those early Bible stories, Fred grew to believe that God was the good Father that he so deeply desired. He also believed that God had important plans for his life – despite his tortuous beginnings. Living in the days of slavery, Fred had an empathetic connection with people who were abused, mistreated and enslaved. Instead of using his freedom for selfish ends, he engaged the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. He worked tirelessly for the freedom and dignity of all people.
His love for the Word of God helped him continue to learn how to read on his own. His heart for God made it only natural to desire sharing it with others. He became a licensed minister and began to preach. Eloquence came natural for Fred and soon his motivating oratory and persuasive writing garnered the notice of many fans – and more than a few enemies. In addition to a vengeful Father, he now also had the pro-slavery crowd gunning for him.
It was in this challenging environment that Fred decided to visit Britain and Ireland. He was moved by how whites and blacks ate together, sat beside each other in church and accepted one another as fellow human beings. He began to speak throughout these nations and gained many friends and supporters.
Upon his return to America, Fred stayed busy. He became a journalist, editor and newspaper owner. He was a Bank President for a short time and became a trusted Adviser to both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He served as a US Marshal, an Assistant Secretary of a Diplomatic Mission, a Recorder of Deeds, a U.S. Minister and Consul to Haiti. He was a featured speaker at a Republican National Convention, and was himself nominated by a third-party to be Vice-President of the United States.
All of these things are astounding when we consider his humble beginnings. They are even more mind-blowing when we realize that he himself was born a slave. His name was Fredrick Douglass, one of the greatest men in American History, and even that is not the end of the story.
Of all the challenges that Douglas faced, there was one more difficult than all the rest. How could he fully serve God who demands forgiveness while holding on to the hatred and bitterness that he had for his Father.
Douglas’ half-sister visited and cheered one of Douglas’ speeches and asked to speak with him. She begged him to come home and see their Father before he died. Though he faced tremendous criticism and opposition from fellow abolitionists, Fredrick did return to the place of his childhood slavery – and forgave his Father for his many transgressions.
Fredrick Douglas did not merely label himself a Christian, he lived like one when it was the most difficult to do so.
Douglass had a creed that he lived by – His mission in life. I can think of no more appropriate close.
“I have one great political idea … That idea is an old one. It is widely and generally assented to; nevertheless, it is very generally trampled upon and disregarded. The best expression of it, I have found in the Bible. It is in substance, “Righteousness exalteth a nation; sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14:34) This constitutes my politics – the negative and positive of my politics, and the whole of my politics … I feel it my duty to do all in my power to infuse this idea into the public mind, that it may speedily be recognized and practiced upon by our people.”