"A man's character always takes its hue, more or less, from the form and color of things about him," argued Frederick Douglass in his Autobiography. Touring Cedar Hill, his stately former residence on a bluff in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C., during his 200th anniversary year allows visitors to see the form and color of this great man's character.
Douglass, who freed himself from slavery at about age 20 by escaping to New York in 1838, became one of the fiercest and most eloquent advocates for the liberty of enslaved Americans. After Emancipation and the end of the Civil War, he continued his career as an orator, writer, and businessman. He was nearly 60 years old in 1877 when he and his wife, Anna Murray, broke a "whites only" covenant to purchase for $6,700 this 21-room brick house situated on 10 acres of land.
Park rangers guide visitors into elegant parlors, through Douglass' library, and upstairs to the well-appointed bedrooms. Some 70 percent of the objects in the house, including furniture, paintings, books, and even cookware, are original to when Douglass lived there. Among them is Abraham Lincoln's cane, which Mary Todd Lincoln gave Douglass after Lincoln's assassination, and Douglass' dining room chair—wheeled so that he could rise quickly when making a point over dinner conversation.
Visitors learn that the 6-foot-3-inch Douglass, always aware of his role as a public figure, was a stickler about his tailoring. He collapsed and died of a heart attack in the front hallway on February 20, 1895, after returning from a meeting in support of women's suffrage, working to expand civil rights to the end.