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Frederick Douglass' Escape from Slavery Storyboard


In his lifetime, Frederick Douglass knew hardships of slavery, but he also knew the prestige of being a well-known speaker, author and presidential adviser. His journey between these is an eventful one. Born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, Douglass escaped in 1838 to New York City and became a free man. He settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he became friends with well-known abolitionist leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison. Soon, Douglass was part of the abolitionist speaker circuit, and he became known for his powerful speeches on freedom and equality for all people, regardless of race or gender. He advised presidents Lincoln and Johnson on equal rights concerns, and at the Republican National Convention of 1888, Douglass became the first African American to receive a vote for President from a major party. He published several anti-slavery newspapers, including The North Star and Frederick Douglass' Paper, and wrote three autobiographies of his life.

Students will read excerpts from one of Frederick Douglass' autobiographies, "My Escape from Slavery," and complete storyboard panels detailing this section of Douglass' life. They will then conduct a gallery walk to view their classmates' work and put together the complete narrative.


    Download Lesson Materials (PDF)

  • Excerpts from "My Escape from Slavery" by Frederick Douglass
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Colored pencils / markers
  • Masking tape or magnets
  • Storyboard Diagram to display
  • Lesson Extension Excerpt from "My Escape from Slavery" by Frederick Douglass


  1. Set the stage by providing the class with some background information on Frederick Douglass' life.
  2. Divide the class into seven groups. Give each group an excerpt from "My Escape from Slavery" by Frederick Douglass, a few sheets of large paper, and colored pencils or markers.
  3. Indicate to the class that they will be reading the excerpt given to them, discussing it amongst themselves, and then completing pieces of the Frederick Douglass' Escape from Slavery storyboard.
  4. Ask each group to pick a "Discussion Leader" to make sure they stay on track and answer all of the discussion questions. Remind groups that difficult words are bolded and can be found in the glossary for each section.
  5. Display the diagram of a storyboard. Explain that a storyboard is what directors use to describe the scenes of a film or TV show. Each scene's storyboard panel has a drawing and a description describing what it is about. The class will be constructing a storyboard to show the "scenes" in Frederick Douglass' life.
  6. Tell the groups that the number of storyboard panels they draw will depend on the contents of their excerpt. Some excerpts will have only one main event in it; others may have two or three.
  7. Give the class time to discuss their segments in groups and draw their storyboard panels. During this time, circulate between the groups to answer any questions.
  8. Have the groups post their storyboard panels in chronological order on the chalkboard, whiteboard, or a blank wall using the masking tape or magnets.
  9. Lead the class in a "gallery walk" to look at the storyboard and read the panels.
  10. Bring the class back together and discuss some of the key moments in Douglass' escape from slavery. What did the students find particularly interesting about their excerpts?

Lesson Extensions

  1. Give students the Lesson Extension Excerpt of "My Escape From Slavery" to read. Ask them to pretend they are newly escaped slaves and either
    1. Write a letter from a newly escaped slave to someone who helped them escape, thanking them and explaining what freedom means to you.
    2. Pretend you are being interviewed for an abolitionist newspaper about how it feels to be free. Write a transcript of the interview.
    3. Write a dialogue between two newly escaped slaves about what they are discovering about their new lives as free men.
  2. This interactive activity, courtesy of the National Park Service, can be used as a whole group presentation or used individually in a computer lab. Students get to take an informative virtual journey with slaves as they make their way to freedom. The visuals and audio of this lesson will enhance the students' perspective of the feelings and dangers that the slaves faced at the time.

This lesson was written by Gloria Moeller, El Cajor, CA, Shawn Cunlisk, Vancouver, WA, and contributing editor Claire Gould.