Unquestionably the most eminent African-American figure of his time, Frederick Douglass was born a slave and escaped bondage at the age of 21, fleeing from Maryland to Massachusetts in 1838. Douglass secretly taught himself to read and write, and while technically a fugitive, went on to become a renowned orator and writer. (Unbelievably, It was illegal in most Southern states, and even punishable by death in some, to teach a slave to read or write!). His "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" was a profoundly influential autobiography that exposed many Americans to the physical and mental torment of being a slave. Concerning his fellow abolitionists, Douglas was well aware of the sacrifices made by others and expressed his praise for them in both public forums and private messages. Douglass was especially impressed with Harriet Tubman, a fugitive slave who could neither read nor write but who went on to assist, at great personal risk, hundreds of slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. When a biography of Tubman, referred to as the "Moses of Her People," was written in 1868, Tubman asked Douglass for an endorsement. He responded with the following letter:
Rochester, August 29, 1868 - "Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day - you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, "God bless you," has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown - of sacred memory - I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy. Your friend, Frederick Douglass."
-- Excerpt, "Letters Of A Nation," Ed. A. Carroll