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On this day in 1838 Negro slave Frederick Douglass escaped from captivity in Maryland, USA.
Douglass was born into slavery and was 20 years old when he escaped the plantation where he had been working, dressed as a sailor. In later life he was an active abolitionist and campaigner for women’s suffrage as well as black suffrage.
A powerful orator, he published several books about his experiences as a slave and held many public government offices. A striking looking man, with dark skin and western features, his father was rumoured to be the plantation owner where he had been born. Douglass married twice, the first to a black woman, the second time to a white woman. He answered the critics by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the colour of his mother, and his second to someone the colour of his father.
Today’s poem is about slavery, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Slave Singing at Midnight:
Loud he sang the psalm of David!
He, a Negro and enslaved,
Sang of Israel’s victory,
Sang of Zion, bright and free.
In that hour, when night is calmest,
Sang he from the Hebrew Psalmist,
In a voice so sweet and clear
That I could not choose but hear,
Songs of triumph, and ascriptions,
Such as reached the swart Egyptians,
When upon the Red Sea coast
Perished Pharaoh and his host.
And what earthquake’s arm of might
Breaks his dungeon-gates at night?
Today I ask for freedom for all those in the world who are slaves, whether to other cruel people or to the slavery of addiction.