February 14 – Frederick Douglass Day

CPB - Words Set Me Free

About the Holiday

Although the exact date is not known, history records Frederick Douglass’ birthday as around Valentine’s Day in 1818, so February 14 was chosen to honor this most unique and influential man. Born into slavery, Frederick Bailey (he later changed his last name to Douglass) learned how to read and write when still a child. As a young man he used his intellect and courage to secure his freedom. He became a compelling speaker, writer, leader of the abolition movement, and statesman. His writings, especially his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, are among the most powerful accounts of the slave experience and are still widely read today.

Words Set Me Free

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James E. Ransome


Born into slavery and separated from his mother in infancy, Frederick Bailey is raised by his Grandmama while his mother works on a separate plantation. When she is able Harriet Bailey walks the 12 miles between plantations to spend a few short hours with her son, watching him sleep, before making the long journey back. While Frederick is still a very young child, his mother falls ill and dies. Douglass recalls never seeing his mother’s face in daylight.

At the age of six, Frederick is moved from his Grandmama’s cabin to the plantation house. At eight, he is sent to the master’s brother in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, the master’s wife, Sophia Auld, treats Frederick more like a paid servant then as a slave. When Frederick says he wants to learn how to read and write, she immediately begins teaching him the alphabet. Frederick is always mindful, however, that he may be punished for these lessons, and he has only memorized the letters and a few words before his master puts an end to his education. Angrily, the master explains to his wife, “If you teach him how to read…it would forever unfit him to be a slave.”

These words are perhaps Frederick’s greatest lesson. He never forgets them, and they fuel his resolve to pursue an education. He makes clever use of the few resources he has and slowly learns to read and write. From the newspapers he discovers that the North offers freedom, and Frederick decides to escape. It’s many long years, however, before he can fulfill his dreams. At last, he sees an opportunity to leave the South behind, and using his talent for writing makes his escape a reality.

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a compelling biography of Frederick Douglass for children in Words Set Me Free. In straightforward language and through first-person point of view, Cline-Ransome reveals the brutal truth of Douglass’s life as a slave and his fight against injustice. As the title suggests, the book focuses on Frederick’s desire to become educated and the obstacles he overcame to succeed. This universally important message continues the work Douglass engaged in long ago.

James Ransome’s stirring paintings highlight pivotal scenes of Frederick’s story. Readers witness the tender moments with his mother, the cruel contrast of slavery and his blossoming intellect, and Frederick’s growing resolve to educate himself and escape.

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2012 | ISBN 978-1416959038

Frederick Douglass Day Activity

CPB - Words Set Me Free word search

Words Set Me Free word search


Words were so important to Frederick Douglass that he risked everything to learn how to read and write. In this printable Words Set Me Free Word Search Puzzle you will find words about the man we honor today. Solution