During this week of Black History Month, we honor the life and work of Frederick Douglass, the great American abolitionist, and economic empowerment leader.

Douglass was born into slavery a little over a hundred years ago in Talbot County, Maryland. Taken away from his mother when he was just a toddler, he was raised by his grandmother until he was sent away to live as a house servant for the Auld family in Baltimore. There, he learned how to read and write from the house’s mistress, though it violated state law.

Eventually, Douglass returned to Talbot County, but he had already drunk the waters of freedom’s fountain and found the courage to run away to be a free man. He spent many years avoiding slave catchers and learning a trade. He would go on to join the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and became one of their chief spokesmen.

While Douglass did many fascinating things throughout his life and career, here are four notable facts that you may not have known, which loosely correlate with events from this week.

  1. Love is the Answer

Frederick Douglass’s birth date is unknown due to the lack of official birth certificates for slaves. However, he chose Valentine’s Day, February 14, as his birthday. He operated from an ethic of love, which fueled his passion for the anti-slavery movement and all people’s equality.

2. Advisor to President Abraham Lincoln

Frederick Douglass was a gifted orator, writer, and statesman. During the Civil War, Douglass served as an advisor and confidante to President Abraham Lincoln. He urged the president to focus on slavery and its abolition as a central component of the war and pushed to supply weapons to freed slaves for the benefit of the Union army. Thanks in part to Douglass’ insistence, Lincoln is remembered as one of our nation’s greatest presidents. On President’s Day (February 15), we honor all of America’s leaders, especially President Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. 

3. Champion of the Freedman’s Bank 

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress authorized the creation of the Freedman’s Bank as part of a comprehensive social service department called the Freedman’s Bureau. The Bureau’s mission was to aid recently freed slaves in their transition into autonomous members of American society. Similarly, the Bank’s mission was to teach financial literacy and assist the newly released men and women’s economic development. Douglass was one of the Bank’s fiercest champions and briefly headed it for a time, even investing $10,000 of his own money in an effort to keep the bank solvent. You can learn more about the Bank and HOPE’s role in renaming the Treasury Annex building in Washington, D.C., to honor this piece of American history at www.freedmansbank.org.

In the spirit of Douglass and the Freedman’s Bank, you can boost your financial empowerment goals through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This is the first full week (February 14 – 20) that the IRS accepts tax turns, and you don’t want to miss out on the money you’re owed. Simply click here to learn more and see if you qualify!

4. Death and Legacy

In the same week that we celebrate the birth of Frederick Douglass, we also commemorate his death. Douglass was not only a champion of civil, human, and economic rights; he also fought for women’s rights. On February 20, 1896, after returning home from a meeting of the National Council of Women, Frederick Douglass passed away.

Before his death and following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Freedman’s Bank and Bureau ultimately failed. Overextended and lacking continued congressional support, the Bank closed its doors with many depositors never fully recouping the money they were owed. Nevertheless, the spirit of the Bank persists through the mission of Operation HOPE. 

As a modern-day Freedman’s Bank, we equip and empower individuals and families to attain the American Dream through our homeownership, small business development, credit and money management, and advocacy on behalf of the underserved. We are doubling our entrepreneurship training efforts through our latest initiative, One Million Black Businesses, powered by HOPE and Shopify. We will stand up over one million Black-owned businesses across the country over the next ten years through this program. This will help spur local economic growth, increase the lending power of local banks and credit unions, and ultimately expand economic opportunity to local communities and municipalities. 

Frederick Douglass was a great American hero whose legacy lives on through Operation HOPE, its supporters, and freedom fighters everywhere. Following his example, we are encouraged to continue our pursuit of financial inclusion for all and an economy that works for everyone. To get engaged with our work, visit us at www.operationhope.org or send us an email at team@operationhope.org.