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The towering figure that was, and is, Frederick Douglass – Golden Legacy #7, #8

February 26, 2015

Frederick Douglass comic book

With all respect to the many towering African-American figures that have come after, none have stood as tall as the first intellectual champion of their rights: Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery, he dragged himself up from that hell, escaping into a life of the mind, and honed a voice that rings down to this very day. Those who carried his legacy forth — one that began before there was even such a thing as “civil rights,” much less a movement — people like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, were very much following in his trailblazing footsteps.

Since this is February, and hence Black History Month, it seems more than worthwhile to take a look at a comic bio of Douglass. He’s no stranger to such profiles (and speaking of profiles, he sports one of the most distinguished silhouettes in history, alongside the similarly wild-shocked Beethoven and Einstein), having appeared in a Classics Illustrated compendium of black American lives. But the tale we have before us today certainly ranks as the most lengthy, stretching as it does through two volumes.

The old Golden Legacy line of books were fine encapsulations of black history. They recounted the stories of notable African-American lives in ways that may not have set new benchmarks for narrative artistry, but still got the job done — and that job was to educate American youth on the chapter and verse of the worthies profiled. Douglass’s is no different, with all bases covered. There’s his early childhood as a slave, when he was introduced to learning in the Auld household, but had it snatched away by a system desperate to keep blacks without the armament of knowledge:

Frederick Douglass boy

There are of course vignettes showing the back-breaking labor of the plantation system and its concomitant cruelties:

Frederick Douglass slavery

Douglass managed to break free, of course, and used his innate intelligence and mounting eloquence to become one of the greatest advocates the abolition movement had. Most of this is handled in the second volume, as intellectual luminaries like William Lloyd Garrison pass through the pages, as well as more incendiary figures like John Brown:

Frederick Douglass and John Brown

As stated, these Golden Legacy books in general aren’t spell-binders. But they don’t try to be. Instead, they try to lay out the major events of major lives, particularly the under-served figures of black history, who received short shrift for far too long. And in this they succeed wonderfully, offering a gateway for learning more about them, a gentle push that just might get a young excited about reading more. These two books about Douglass fit right into that groove. They’re the sort of thing a man like Douglass would heartily endorse.

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