William Wells Brown escaped slavery and wrote the first novel by a black American.
William Wells Brown was born a slave in Lexington, Kentucky in 1814. His mother was a slave and his father was the slaveowner’s cousin.
At the age of 20, he escaped from slavery while his steamboat was docked in Ohio, a free state.
Brown worked on a steamboat in Buffalo, New York, where he helped escaped slaves get to freedom.
In Paris, Brown represented the United States at the International Peace Congress. he confronted American slaveowners to their faces.
He spent time as an abolitionist speaking in the United States and Europe. His novel, Clotel, published in the UK, is considered the first published novel by a black American. He is also the first published black playwright. He read his play, The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom, at abolitionist meetings.
Why he’s been forgotten: He was a contemporary of Frederick Douglass and was overshadowed by the wit and wisdom of Douglass. Also, he openly feuded with Douglass.
You can read his entire autobiography here.
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