Servant Leadership Profile: Frederick Douglass – Black History Month

Frederick Douglass was an outspoken abolitionist, prominent speaker & respected author who fought for slavery freedom, women's suffrage & equal rights for all

In honor of Black History Month, I am highlighting great servant leaders from African American history. Today’s recognition goes to Frederick Douglass.

Who Was Frederick Douglass?

Frederick Douglass was an outspoken abolitionist, prominent speaker and respected author who fought for slavery freedom, women’s suffrage and equal rights for all. Douglass believed that the United States Constitution was, effectively, an anti-slavery document and used this and his powerful oratory skills to argue for the freedom of slaves and equal rights for all. He also believed education was critical for African Americans to achieve equality – to the point he even contended education was more important than suffrage.

Frederick Douglass - Servant LeaderWhat Douglass Did

  • Escaped Slavery
  • Fought for women’s suffrage
  • Held multiple public offices, including a United States Marshall, Minister-Resident and Consul-General to the Republic of Haiti as well as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia
  • Among the earliest advocates for the desegregation of schools
  • Constructed rental housing for blacks in the Baltimore area
  • Wrote three autobiographies, covering his experiences with slavery
  • Fought for equal rights for former slaves, Native Americans, other minorities and disadvantaged in general
  • Although it was illegal, while still a slave, Douglass taught other slaves to read the New Testament via Sunday school
  • Spent 2 years over seas (Britain & Ireland), where he gave many lectures, building support for his causes
  • Produced several abolitionist periodicals including The Frederick Douglass Weekly, North Star and more
  • Was the only African American to attended the first women’s rights convention
  • Delivered the “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” speech which became famous as an “attack on the hypocrisy of the United States in general and the Christian church in particular” (Wikipedia)
  • Consulted with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson on the treatment of black soldiers and black suffrage
  • Served as a recruiter for the Union army
  • Was the president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank during the reconstruction era after the Civil War
  • Supported Ulysses S. Grant. who signed the Klan Act and dealt several blows to the Klu Klux Klan
  • Was the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States (though he was unaware of the nomination at the time and chose not to campaign for it)
  • Was the first African American to receive a vote for President of the United States in a major party’s roll call vote

Servant Leadership Quotes by Frederick Douglass

  • “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
  • “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”
  • “Oppression makes a wise man mad.”
  • “He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise.”
  • “”A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex.”
  • “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me.”
  • “A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.”
  • “A man’s character always takes its hue, more or less, from the form and color of things about him.”
  • “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”
  • “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.”
  • “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
  • “One and God make a majority.”
  • “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
  • “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose.”
  • “The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”
  • “People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”
  • “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Why Frederick Douglass is a Servant Leader

During his time, racists argued that African Americans were incapable of higher education or contributions to society. Douglass was a living example in opposition to that belief. His fantastic writing and even more impressive speech wowed audiences of all types wherever he traveled. He never feared to speak his mind, as was the case in his “What to the slave is the 4th of July” speech which was presented to a predominantly white audience as a “keynote” of sorts during their 4th of July celebration. He also published a letter blasting his former “owner” and asking how he would feel if subjected to the same threats made against Douglass and his family. His selfless support of causes he believed in across all disadvantaged people underscored his servant heart.

Further Reading on Frederick Douglass

as the only African American.


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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