I can still remember the heartbreak and, ultimately, the inspiration I experienced the first time I read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.” I was confused as to why “Frederick Douglass” was not a household name, that his story was not as well-known as that of George Washington or Benjamin Franklin or Martin Luther King, Jr.
I started spreading the word. If someone did not know his story or was only vaguely aware of it, I would recount the fascinating facts of Douglass’s life I had learned from his autobiography. Of how he came to the shocking awareness that he was a slave when he was around six or seven years old. Of how he broke the law to learn how to read and write. Of how he grew to reject his manmade status of slave and demand, instead, his divine right to freedom. Of how he physically beat one of his “masters,” and also beat all odds escaping from slavery, only to risk his newfound freedom—and his very life–to become America’s leading abolitionist. Of how he helped spark the Civil War that ultimately ended institutional slavery in the United States of America.
In his day, Douglass’s powerful oratory and writing made him one of the most famous people in the Western world. His associates were a Who’s Who of 19th Century America: Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, John Brown, and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few.
I introduced Douglass’s first autobiography to the curriculum at Junipero Serra High School, where students and teacher alike were amazed as we delved into the story of a man who’s singular life cuts straight to the heart of America–its potential, its promise, its darkest sins and tragedies, its greatest victories, and its hope.
It’s worth noting that, today, Douglass is uniquely considered a hero to the political Far Left and the Far Right, and most people in between who know about him. I’ve always believed that, in his story, lies a way forward for our divided nation today. It was in that spirit that I wrote a screenplay about Douglass’s life, making it my objective to dramatize his story, as he told it, in his three autobiographies.
I am honored that this resulting screenplay, “Frederick Douglass: An American Slave,” has been selected as a Quarter Finalist Winner in the 2023 Emerging Screenwriters Genre Screenplay Competition. I will keep you posted if the script about this legendary American makes it to the Finals next month.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already, please treat yourself to a heartbreaking and inspiring and humbling and invigorating and tragic and victorious story, and read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” today.
Writing by Sean Coons