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Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

David W. Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of American History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University, and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner in history

David Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom sheds new light on Douglass (c. 1818–1895), particularly the last 30 years of his life, thanks to a trove of letters, manuscripts, and scrapbooks in a private collection that no other historian previously used in any full-length biography. Blight writes that the collection, owned by Walter O. Evans of Savannah, GA, “makes possible many new insights into the final third of Douglass’s life. The younger Douglass—the heroic escaped slave and emerging abolitionist—is better known, in part because of the author’s masterful first two autobiographies. The older Douglass, from Reconstruction to the end of his life in 1895, has never been so accessible or rendered so fascinating and complicated as in the Evans collection.” In this lecture held on June 2, 2019, in conjunction with the exhibition In the Library: Frederick Douglass Family Materials from the Walter O. Evans Collection, Blight shares how this material revealed the full extent of Douglass’s complex personal life. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2019, this biography masterfully weaves together the more popularly known story of Douglass’s life of public activism with his perhaps lesser-known private life to paint a complete portrait of the great American hero.