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The itinerant orator was just seven years out of chains — and already the equivalent of a modern-day rock star — when the first of his three memoirs, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” made him the most well-known Negro on the globe.[ ]Dependent upon abolitionist charity for his family’s daily bread, Douglass nonetheless chafed under a stifling Garrisonian orthodoxy that required adherents to embrace pacifism and abstain from politics.He charted a course away from all that by starting his own newspaper and openly embracing as household saints blood-drenched figures like the slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner and the white revolutionary John Brown, both of whom he classed with the founders.
Among those in the free black community of Baltimore who embraced Fred and propelled him toward freedom was his wife-to-be, the housekeeper Anna Murray.
Blight draws on new archival material and insights gleaned from a lifetime in the company of his subject to shed light on the orator’s complex relationship with his wife, Anna, and the two white women who came between the couple within the walls of the Douglass family home in Rochester.
It is alleged that she moved out when Anna “ordered it.”That Griffiths loved Douglass is clear on the face of things, but any claim that the two carried on a sexual relationship right under Anna’s nose seems far-fetched.
The eccentric German intellectual Ottilie Assing was another matter.
She wandered into the Douglasses’ lives in 1856, seeking permission to translate his second autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom,” into German.
She remained in the family orbit for nearly three decades, serving as confidante and interlocutor — and lover. J., where the participants of her salon lionized him, validating his rise from slavery into the thinking classes.
She helped “to polish a raw genius into a gem and, for a time, managed his emotional health as well as his bank accounts.” Together with her sister, Eliza, Griffiths relieved the Douglasses of an enormous financial burden by purchasing the mortgage of the family home.
White Rochester was scandalized when Griffiths moved into the Douglass home, an arrangement that spawned rumors of a romantic link between patron and orator.
For that, the charismatic orator called up the British abolitionist Julia Griffiths, who put aside her life and moved in 1849 to be with him in Rochester and to get The North Star off the ground.
She enabled Douglass to survive personally and professionally, managing and raising money for the newspaper and for the food that came across the Douglass family table.