Picturing Frederick Douglass

Inside the Museum of African American History in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood, portraits of Frederick Douglass — the most photographed American man of the 19th century — are on display.

"A black man is the most photographed American in the 19th century," said John Stauffer. "You've got to show evidence, and fortunately, we have that evidence. In the book we show, catalogue, designate all the separate photographs of Douglass."

In total, there are 171 documented photos of Douglass, and 160 of them can be found inside Stauffer's book, "Picturing Frederick Douglass."

But how did a leader of the abolitionist movement, one of the few known African Americans to be called "friend" by Abraham Lincoln, end up having so many moments in front of the camera?

"For him to present himself in front of the camera, for his image to get disseminated as widely as his did, is also a message that he had as much right to equal citizenship — or more right, because of his accomplishments — than any white person," Stauffer said.

For officials at the museum, the exhibit is a treat. The runaway slave spent many days in Massachussetts, calling New Bedford home and even speaking inside the school and meeting house, which is now the national landmark that houses the museum.

"Our opportunity here at the museum to present this elaborate exhibition that encompasses not only scholarly work, but visual acuity with the way that Frederick Douglass decided to present his image," curator L'Merchie Frazier said.

That image transcends generations. Just gazing at a photo will evoke so many emotions, imagining what it must have been like to know the great leader.

"At the time, there were caricatures of black men and women, which were very unflattering. He decided, 'No, no, I'm going to control the way I'm presented,'" said Marita Rivero. "So when you come here you think, 'Oh, yeah, he did control that."

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