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Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn

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A fascinating collection of Frederick Douglass’s always-controversial speeches in Brooklyn, New York.

$18.95 $14.21

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What people are saying…

“In Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn, Theodore Hamm persuasively and passionately makes the case that the borough (and former city) became a powerful forum for Douglass’s abolitionist agenda in the mid-19th century after he escaped slavery in 1838.”
New York Times

“Insight into the remarkable life of a remarkable man. [Frederick] Douglass in Brooklyn shows how the great author and agitator associated with radicals—and he associated with the president of the United States. A fine book.”
—Errol Louis, host of NY1’s Road to City Hall

“Although he never lived in Brooklyn, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass had many friends and allies who did. Hamm has collected Douglass’s searing antislavery speeches (and denunciations of him by the pro-slavery newspaper the Brooklyn Eagle) delivered at Brooklyn locales during the mid-19th century.”
Publishers Weekly, A Notable African-American Title

“A fascinating collection of Frederick Douglass’s controversial speeches in Brooklyn, N.Y., this volume compiles original source material that illustrates the relationship between the abolitionist and the then city of Brooklyn.”
Publishers Weekly, Fall 2016 Announcements

“This collection of Douglass’s speeches in Brooklyn displays the power of the former slave’s oratory before, during, and after the Civil War. Editor Hamm, a professor of media studies, places a selection of carefully reconstructed speeches in this slim volume, and gives useful context on how they were locally received. A concise introduction provides detail about 19th-century Brooklyn and its conflicted legacy of racial prejudice and abolitionism. When Douglass’s own words are reproduced, his talent as a writer and the sheer monstrousness of slavery are both driven home.”
Publishers Weekly

“A collection of rousing 19th-century speeches on freedom and humanity. The eloquent orator Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895) delivered eight impressive speeches in Brooklyn, New York, ‘far from a bastion of abolitionist support,’ which, even as late as 1886, had only a small black population . . . Editor Hamm provides helpful introductions and notes and gives illuminating context and perspective by including their coverage in the ‘virulently proslavery’ Brooklyn Eagle . . . Covering one speech, the Eagle defended its claim of black inferiority by asserting, ‘the abject submission of a race who are content to be enslaved when there is an opportunity to be free, gives the best evidence that they are fulfilling the destiny which Providence marked out for them.’ Proof that Douglass’ speeches, responding to the historical exigencies of his time, amply bear rereading today.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This timely volume [presents] Douglass’ towering voice in a way that sounds anything but dated.”
The Philadelphia Tribune

“The beauty of the book is how fresh [Douglass’s] words are, how contemporary his voice sounds, and how resonant the message is. More than a century after his death, Douglass’s message speaks to us, as clear and crisp as the day he gave voice to the fight for human rights in the United States.”

Included in a Shelf Awareness for Readers “From My Shelf” roundup of historical figures for Black History Month

“Though he never lived there, Frederick Douglass and the city of Brooklyn engaged in a profound repartee in the decades leading up to the Civil War, the disagreements between the two parties revealing the backward views of a borough that was much less progressive than it liked to think . . . Hamm . . . [illuminates] the complexities of a city and a figure at the vanguard of change.”
Village Voice

“Douglass is always timely, but ever more so today, this week, this year.”
Brooklyn Magazine

“Abolitionist, racial justice leader, orator and former slave Frederick Douglass’ speaking engagements took him all over the northern United States and the United Kingdom. But it’s the lectures he delivered in Brooklyn between 1859 and 1893 that feature in a new collection edited by historian and writer Theodore Hamm.”

“A fresh and incisive compilation . . . Hamm’s thoughtful introductions to each contextualize Douglass’s soaring oratory . . . Douglass presciently touched upon social issues of division and assimilation still relevant in the 21st century.”
Shelf Awareness for Readers

“A collection of eight speeches by the abolitionist leader of the 1800s still provides interesting reading more than a century later.”
World Wide Work

“It is my hope that this book will introduce Frederick Douglass to a generation that could benefit from the example of his clarity of purpose and moral vision, as well as his relationship to the borough of Brooklyn.”
—Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams

“Theodore Hamm simultaneously engages scholars of history, politics, and New York City in his well-edited and carefully crafted selection of Frederick Douglass’s speeches in Brooklyn. Many of the questions raised by Douglass are still relevant today. What will be the fate of black people living in the US? Do places like Brooklyn serve as incubators of injustice—or promise a better future—for people of color? This is an insightful and invaluable book for anyone interested in race, ethnicity, cities, injustice, and the quest for equality.”
—Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University and columnist, The Amsterdam News


This volume compiles original source material that illustrates the complex relationship between Frederick Douglass and the city of Brooklyn. Most prominent are the speeches the abolitionist gave at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Plymouth Church, and other leading Brooklyn institutions. Whether discussing the politics of the Civil War or recounting his relationships with Abraham Lincoln and John Brown, Douglass’s towering voice sounds anything but dated. An introductory essay examines the intricate ties between Douglass and Brooklyn abolitionists, while brief chapter introductions and annotations fill in the historical context.

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was an abolitionist leader, spokesman for racial equality, and defender of women’s rights. He was born into slavery in Maryland and learned to read and write around age twelve, and it was through this that his ideological opposition to slavery began to take shape. He successfully escaped bondage in 1838. In 1845, he published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a best seller in the US and was translated into several languages. He went on to advise President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers during the Civil War and continued to work for equality until his death.

Read an excerpt from Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn at the Daily Beast and the Village Voice.

Read an excerpt and guest piece by Theodore Hamm at Jacobin and the Huffington Post.

Included in New York Magazine’s roundup of Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend Events.

Read a guest post by Theodore Hamm at BAM blog.

Watch an interview with Theodore Hamm at BK Live, and at NY1’s Road to City Hall

Book Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Published: 1/3/17
  • IBSN: 9781617754852
  • e-IBSN: 9781617755026
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617756184


THEODORE HAMM is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. His previous books include Rebel and a Cause, The New Blue Media, and Pieces of a Decade (coedited with Williams Cole). Hamm’s writings about New York City history and politics have appeared recently in the Village Voice, Vice News, the New York Daily News, and Jacobin. He lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He is the editor of Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn.

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