Essay: Fredrick Douglass

Fredrick Douglass was one of the most important black American leaders of the 19th century. As an author, orator, and publisher, Douglass promoted the freedom from slavery, civil rights and universal suffrage. During his fight to try to free African Americans from slavery, he wrote the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave which depicted his experiences as a slave along with his eventual escape to freedom. He wrote this narrative in an attempt to convey to his audience the struggles he went through and how slavery repressed the fundamental human rights of African Americans. Douglass strongly believed that all people should be treated equally no matter their race, status, or gender. He thought that by sharing his narrative, he would be able to show people what slavery was actually like, and therefore, convince them that it needed to be abolished.
Throughout his life in slavery, Douglass endured horrible treatment form his numerous overseers. He was born a slave in 1818 in a plantation in Maryland. Early in life, he was separated from his mother and when he was eight years old, he was sent to work for a white family in Baltimore. Here he had an unusually kind mistress who began to teach him how to read. However, once her husband found out, he made her stop the lessons as he believed that a slave “should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world… It would forever unfit him to be a slave.” 41 From this, Douglass begins to understand that knowledge is the key to freedom and that in order to be free he needed to learn how to read and write. Douglass learns that a slave with an education could potentially have the power to take over his master. With this in mind, he took it upon himself to continue his education and often traded bread for lessons from young boys in the streets.

Towards his adolescent years Douglass begins to explore the term freedom and what it actually means to be free. He started to figure out that knowledge by itself was not enough to buy his freedom or guarantee his protection from the slave system. Douglass begins resisting his masters and actively fighting for his freedom. However, his masters notice his uprising so they send him to a slave breaker in hopes to break his spirit. Their attempts to break him work and Douglass enters the lowest point of his life. Douglass says that his “My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.”72 He describes this as a turning point in his life where he realizes that he would rather die than be treated like a slave, so from then on he makes breaking free his priority. He developed his first plan to escape when he was around eighteen years old but was unsuccessful in his attempt. A few years later he tries again and successfully escapes to New York and then to Massachusetts. Unfortunately, even after he is no longer bound to slavery, he realizes that he is nowhere near free and concludes that in order to truly have freedom, he has to completely eradicate slavery. This leads him to become an abolitionist leader and write his narrative to inspire and teach others about the immoralities of slavery.

Fredrick Douglass became a symbol of liberation for slaves across the country. He was born a slave that somehow had the courage and to escape from slavery and become a leader against oppression. Fredrick Douglass was important to America because unlike most enslaved people he actually makes it out of slavery and was able to tell his story and is become an agent for change in the black community. Douglass’ experiences in slavery gave him the opportunity to explain and interpret the practices of slavery to his audience.

Fredrick Douglass uses his book to depict to his readers what it is like to be a slave and how unjust it was for African Americans to not be treated as equals. From his book people are able to learn and educate themselves on the issue of slavery. Douglass’ views and beliefs play a very important role in the eventual eradication of slavery. His perseverance and determination to find freedom gave a very important message to other African Americans and also to people who were ignorant to the oppression.

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