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The North Star

As he formed his own political voice and ideologies, Frederick Douglass broke away from his abolitionist mentor, William Lloyd Garrison, to start the newspaper "The North Star" and give Black abolitionists a voice. This caused tension in their relationship, as Douglass started to emerge as a political leader in his own right. He used words as battle axes, which can be seen fully in one of his most famous speeches, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?". This module explores how Frederick Douglass is able to shape public opinion as a visionary newspaper editor. Students will analyze primary source images and documents, and consider discussion prompts for more dialogue and deeper reflection.

Essential Question:

Why is telling stories from different perspectives an important tool for social change?

Thinking Questions:

  • How did William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass differ in what Douglass’ role should be in the abolitionist movement?
  • Why was starting The North Star newspaper so important to Frederick Douglass?
  • What was The North Star able to communicate about slavery that William Lloyd Garrison could not?
  • How did The North Star increase Frederick Douglass’s power and impact?
  • Do you agree that Douglass used his words as “battle axes”? Explain your answer.

Analyze the print, Pioneers of Freedom.

  • Look closely at the image and make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel.
  • Why do you think the portrait photographs were taken?
  • What do you learn about abolitionists from this photograph?
  • What’s missing from the photograph that you wonder about?
  • What questions do you have about anti-slavery activism in the 19th century?

Analyze the document, "The North Star."

  • What is the purpose of this document?
  • What do you notice, wonder, and feel after reading the narrative?
  • What do you learn from this document that you might not learn anywhere else?
  • How does engaging with Frederick Douglass’s story firsthand create an emotional impact for you?
  • What do you learn about the symbolism of the North Star to Frederick Douglass?

Analyze the photograph, Frederick Douglass, three-quarter length portrait, seated.

  • What do you notice first? What people or objects are shown?
  • Look closely at the image and make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel.
  • What can you learn from examining this image?
  • Why do you think this photograph was taken?
  • Who do you think was the audience for this photograph?