At the age of 20, Douglass risked everything: He borrowed the travel document, and the clothes, of a free black sailor in Baltimore, and hopped on a crowded train headed north. Although he looked nothing like the man pictured in the “free papers,” he managed to make it to the free state of New York.
Heartbroken at leaving his friends and family behind, he used his writing skills and power of persuasion to fight slavery. He released his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, at the age of 27, only to have to flee to Europe to escape vengeful slave hunters who sought to silence him. Admirers raised enough money to buy Douglass’s freedom, allowing him legal return to the US two-years later.
Fiercely intelligent and articulate, Douglass spent the rest of his career lecturing and writing on the evils of slavery, becoming a national celebrity and leader of the movement to abolish the institution once and for all. On August 1, 1863, he became the first black American to enter the White House. He formed a cautious friendship with President Abraham Lincoln, whom Douglass came to trust, although he remained frustrated by the slow pace of change.