“Right is of no sex — Truth is of no color.” It was on this bold motto that Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895) founded his antislavery newspaper, The North Star, in the mid-1800s.
Commonly known as one of the leading Black abolitionists of the 19th century, Douglass also proved to be a staunch proponent of women’s rights. After escaping slavery in 1838, the Maryland-born activist quickly got to work, joining the abolitionist movement in 1841 and the fight for women’s suffrage just a few years later.
It was through his work with the Antislavery Society that he met Elizabeth M’Clintock and received an invitation to the women’s rights Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848.
He, along with famed suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in 1866 demanded universal suffrage with their American Equal Rights Association.
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Douglass had long known that his liberty as a Black man was intrinsically bound to that of Black women. In fact, Douglass, dubbed a “women’s rights man,” wrote in his autobiography Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881) that “the cause of the slave has been peculiarly a women’s cause.”
Listen: Frederick Douglass, “Why I Became a Women’s Rights Man” (read by Ossie Davis)
Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech, now famously known for her question, “Ain’t I a Woman?” exposed the intersectional blind spot of the women’s movement that privileged whites.
Douglass boldly declared at the Equal Rights Association’s 1869 convention that the matter of Black enfranchisement was “a question of life and death.”
He did not abandon his convictions regarding women’s rights, though. Douglass continued to display both his support for women’s rights and that of the Black population when he ran for Vice President of the United States in 1872 alongside Victoria Woodhull — the first woman to run for President of the United States.
At the National Convention of Colored Freemen (1848), Douglass’ leadership as the organization’s president and chair he encouraged officials to endorse “entire equality” in a resolution that most certainly included women of all races.
As women’s suffrage garnered attention, Douglass used his beloved North Star to make clear his stance, publishing an editorial that stated, “In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for men.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Frederick Douglass: A Women’s Rights Man, (2011)
Angela Davis, Women, Race & Class, (1981)
Whitney Hampson, A Historical Examination of the Split between Black Rights and Women’s Rights in the American Equal Rights Association, (2004).