Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were the most eminent African-American figures of their time. The two were born four years apart and both knew what it was like to be enslaved. Both were born into slavery, escaped to freedom, and did not turn their backs on others who were enslaved. They began their own personal crusade to free other slaves from being held in bondage.
Douglass was born a slave and escaped bondage at the age of 21. He fled from Maryland to Massachusetts where he began to teach himself how to read and write. He went on to become a renowned orator and writer. Douglass used his powerful words to reach many prominent people on the issues with slavery. When he could, he spoke out against slavery at several events and became the spokesperson for the anti-slavery movement.
Tubman could not afford to be as outspoken as Douglass, yet her mission was just as important and dangerous. Tubman operated secretly and in the shadows, since her missions could be compromised at any time. Douglass was impressed with the work of Harriet Tubman, a fugitive slave who could not read nor write and took great risks to rescue hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad. Tubman made as many as 19 trips to the south and led over 300 slaves to freedom.
When a biography of Tubman, referred to as the “Moses of Her People,” was written in 1868, Tubman asked Douglass for an endorsement. One very important aspect she pointed out to Douglass was that “she never lost a single passenger” on her trips. Douglass replied with the following remarkable letter below:
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.