The Atlantic

The Mystery Behind Frederick Douglass's Birthday

Two hundred years ago, one of the 19th century’s most significant Americans began his life in anonymity and bondage.
Source: George Francis Schreiber / Library of Congress

A wealth of details was recorded about the day Frederick Douglass died as a free man in Washington, D.C. It was February 20, 1895. Douglass’s movements in the hours before his death were laid out in the published the following day: He spent the morning at the Congressional library, then traveled to Metzerott Hall for sessions of the National Council of Women of the United States, staying through the afternoon; in the early evening he returned home, had dinner with his wife, and was standing and talking to her about the Women’s Council when, suddenly, he had a heart attack and

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