Beyond their respective living quarters, these three leaders each complained about the poor districts in which they grew up. Douglass' birthplace, Tuckahoe, Maryland, was described by him as "a dull, flat, and unthrifty district... with decay and ruin everywhere visible."[6]  Washington said that his life "had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings."[7]   In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, extra hard times sent "Willie" DuBois and his mother to a shared house on Railroad Street, "with a poor white family, ... but the wife was near insanity."[8]   In his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of DuBois, David Levering Lewis described Railroad Street as "two blocks of perdition, a foul causeway of ruin through three or four saloons, gambling dens, and at least one house of prostitution."[9]    As soon as they could, Frederick, Booker T. and Willie DuBois each left the locales of their early childhood. As a 21 year old slave, Douglass left Maryland in 1838 for Massachusetts disguised as a swarthy seaman. When he was 16, Booker T. headed for Hampton by stagecoach, railway and foot. The free-born DuBois's travels were to begin when he moved to Nashville to enter Fisk University at 17 years of age. These were the springboard moves for these ambitious young African Americans.  Expressed another way, the enslaved Douglass went North to carve out a free future for himself. DuBois and Booker, initially and respectively, turned Southward in search of better futures for the race through education. These early freedom moves placed these young African Americans in locations of increased potential. DuBois and Washington headed toward formal educational institutions: the former to Fisk and the latter to Hampton, both during the first decades of emancipation. Making his journey during the pre-emancipation years, Douglass was to receive an informal but intensive political education among the abolitionists of Lynn and New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Color Line Exposure

        All African Americans, then and now, sooner or later, encounter what has been called the "color line," drawn by political power and kept in place by personal prejudice. Douglass first became aware of "white power" when he realized that his beloved grandmother was owned by an "inexorable demi-god" whom she called "Old Master."[10] 

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August 1999