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Frederick Douglass, known for his stirring oratory skills and stoic presence, was a key figure in the abolitionist movement before, and during, the Civil War. Douglass, a man who believed in equality for all people, also fought for the rights of women and other minorities during his lifetime. Douglass publicized his views in various newspaper articles and speeches, and conferred with President Lincoln during the war on several occasions advocating that former slaves be armed for the North and that the war be made a direct confrontation against slavery.
President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, declared the freedom of all slaves in Confederate-held territory. With the North no longer obliged to return slaves to their owners in the South, Douglass vigorously continued to fight for the equality of his people. He made plans with Lincoln to move the liberated slaves out of the South and also helped the Union by serving as a recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
After the war, at the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington's Lincoln Park, Douglass was the keynote speaker. In his speech, Douglass spoke frankly about Lincoln's tardiness in joining the cause of emancipation while noting that Lincoln initially opposed the expansion of slavery but did not support its elimination. But Douglass also asked, "Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word?"
It was reported that the crowd gave him a standing ovation and that Mary Lincoln gave her late husband's favorite walking stick to Douglass in appreciation. Lincoln's walking stick still rests in Douglass' house known as Cedar Hill. It is both a testimony and a tribute to the effect of Douglass' powerful oratory.