Frederick Bailey was born sometime in the early 1800s in Tuckahoe, Maryland. His father was a white man, and his mother, Harriet, was a slave. Frederick hardly ever saw his mother, and she died when he was very young. He was sold repeatedly by several masters, and did various work, but mostly housework. During these years, he saw his own family beaten and whipped, and many murders unfold right in front of his face. However, the wife of one of his masters caught onto his sharpness and taught him the alphabet. Before she could teach him how to read or write, the master found out and forbade his wife to teach him any further. But she had “given (Frederick) the inch, and no precaution could prevent (Frederick) from taking the ell”
He learned how to read and write by working in a shipyard, copying the letters of the sides of boats, by challenging other boys to write better than he. Over time, these clever methods made him hate slavery more and more, until he decided he wanted out. He escaped to the North in 1838. In that same year, he married Anna Murray, a free black. Frederick Bailey became a successful orator and abolitionist. We know Frederick Bailey as Frederick Douglass.
Douglass recorded his experiences in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by Himself and it was published in 1845, a very brave move on his part, for any suggestion of how he escaped or who helped him could drag him right back into slavery, regardless of his reputation in the North. Douglass was involved in politics, but never held an office, which was the only extent to which he could partake in political matters.
During the Civil War, Douglass was a soldier in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. He encouraged Northern African Americans to fight for the Union. After the war, he continued to speak, most prominently at the Seneca Falls convention, and because of his efforts, he has been called the father of Civil Rights, as mattbw said.