Legislation commemorating the chosen birthday of abolitionist Frederick Douglass cleared the full Assembly this week and is now headed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.
The resolution will declare Feb. 14 as Frederick Douglass Day in New Jersey. Douglass was a renowned African American abolitionist, human rights activist, author and public speaker, was born into slavery in or around 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland.
Douglass’ exact birthdate is unknown, but during his lifetime he chose to celebrate his birth annually on Feb. 14. After years of slavery and abuse, he escaped from slavery in 1838 at the age of 20 and began attending and giving speeches at abolitionist meetings.
Carter G. Woodson, who created Black History Month, chose February to commemorate the annual celebration because of Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays taking place during that month.
“Frederick Douglass was the father of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. “His life’s work to end slavery was the foundation for all who came after and worked to end racial injustice in this country. Honoring Mr. Douglass in this way ensures New Jersey children now and in the future understand the importance of his contributions to history.”
Douglass visited New Jersey in 1849 when he was invited by abolitionists in Newark. During a speech he spoke against slavery at the First African Presbyterian Church. Slavery was abolished in New Jersey in 1846, just three years prior to Douglass’ visit.
Douglass was chosen, in 1843, to become part of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s Hundred Conventions Project, which was a six-month tour across the United States. He shared his experiences with slavery and spoke publically about the importance of abolishing slavery and ensuring equality for all Americans.
“Frederick Douglass’ legacy is one of self-determination, activism and freedom,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “We celebrate his legacy as well as his work to secure the freedom of slaves through education, activism and journalism. We can see his spirit alive in the movement we see today for racial justice and equality and an end to violence.”