Life of an American slave written by himself: Frederick Douglass
One of the most powerful tools, capable of communicating and expressing a feeling, idea, or reality, is writing. So many people turn to it to cause an impact on society. Frederick Douglass is a clear example of this, by giving us his book: life of an American slave written by himself. In which he teaches us the importance of words as an instrument of change. After reading the book, I recognize that knowing the life and thoughts of an African -American person, who is a spokesman for a marginalized and hurt community, helps us understand the truth about how the world works. Especially, how can each of us act to do a place where it is lived with justice, equality, tolerance, respect and equity. There are so many problems today and there are few people who are interested in understanding where they come from, throughout history. It is not easy to take off your eyes, but it is worth it.
First of all, it is necessary to place ourselves in a timeline. What I learned from Howard Zinn’s book is that slavery began since 1607 in Jamestown, ending (not completely) in 1865. What was the justification for enslaving? In two words, economic interests. That is, they needed labor and could not count on the natives, then Africans began to import (in large quantities and horrible conditions), who were abused when they were considered helpless people. What follows after that? A racialization: prohibiting human rights, snatching humanity, turning human beings into subhumans, and denying freedom that we all deserve. Classifications by color and prejudices based on ignorance were created, directly harming these people. It should be noted that, races do not exist, but verbs that we learn by society, which tell us how to behave
The book begins with a very interesting introduction, which invites us to understand the value of abolitionist actions that emerged in 1820 to 1860. During the nineteenth century several writings were published in the North (where slavery had been abolished), which expressed ethical attitudes about oppression to slaves, demanding abolition in the south. The narratives, which were written by former slaves, were based on their experiences and abolitionist principles. They were so shocking at the time (and they are still), since it was impossible that they did not reach the hearts of men. They contributed so many things, including African Americans had intellectual and reasoning capacities. They wrote in detail the events, and these could be spread between a broad and diverse public. In a nutshell, they could freely express their opinion. Today their texts continue to cause impact, especially help us to relate our interpretation of the United States past.
One of the most representative and perfect works was that of African -American Frederick Douglass. Your autobiography is composed of three extremely significant parts. Begins explaining his childhood and youth, the way he develops his conscience to be a slave. He continues to speak of his physical and emotional rebellion against the cruelty of the South Tyranny. Finally, talk about the thoughts he had and the flight plan (which is not explained by security issues). Before entering its history, I think it is necessary to understand that one of the most important points is to understand that the basic notions of writing led many people to their freedom, including Douglass. Sadly, despite his incredible testimony, everyone can never be pleased. Time after getting his freedom and becoming abolitionist, he was attacked and crossed out as a liar. Well, people could not believe that someone who wrote and spoke so well could have escaped slavery. This has to do with the stereotypes of African Americans, who were identified as people with a smaller brain. Also, because there was a large number of illiteracy because of the conditions in which they lived, there were few who learned to read and write. Likewise, some Euro -Americans rejected the idea of the cruel treatment of masters towards the slaves described in the narratives, stating that "they were, all generous, Christian and compassionate people" (P.10).
I will explain Douglass’s life, to later talk about certain important aspects. The author was born in Talbot County, Maryland. Its date of birth is not known exactly, but it is established in 1818. His mother was Harriet Bailey, Mr. Aaron Anthony’s slave, who was rumored to be Frederick’s father. Something that was common, due to sexual abuse or masters’ relationships with slaves. The little Douglass, who was actually called Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, acquired his mother’s condition at birth. What seems to me an injustice, because when I arrived in the world, he was sentenced to a life without his own freedom or rights, to be dominated by other people instead. The author spent a part of his childhood in Mr. Lloyd’s plantations, since his master was the administrator. Slaves could have different masters during their lives, whether a family gift, acquired by inheritance, sold, an exchange, among many other reasons (remember that they were treated as property and not human beings). Some time later he was sent to Baltimore to work for Hugh Auld’s family. What was the relationship? Hugh’s brother, Thomas Auld, was the husband of Captain Anthony’s daughter.
The change to the city was one of the most important parts of the author’s life, because apart from being a quieter job compared to field work, it was a key moment that served to open his eyes to the situation in whichit was. In addition, he learned to write thanks to Sophia Auld, Hugh’s wife, as the author says, triumphed to discover "the path of slavery to freedom" (P.37). By changing his perspective and developing critical thinking, he realized that every human deserves freedom. His granite was already sown, all he needed was to find the right time to walk towards his freedom. Continuing with his life, because of an argument among the Auld brothers, he returned to field work with Thomas, who sought the service of the slave tamer (due to his inexperience as master), Edward Covey. When one of the worst episodes of his life passed, he decided to escape, because he had no one left. When he was imprisoned for his failed escape attempt, his former master, Hugh, paid the bond and returned it to Baltimore, where he worked as a carafater and where his seed of freedom continued to grow. In 1838 with the help of his fiancee, he arrived in New York, where he finally got his freedom.
There are so many things to consider about the life of Douglass that reflect the situation of most slaves. At the beginning of the first chapter, I reflected about how lucky I am in several aspects. Frederick tells that slaves were not very clear about their identity. It was difficult to have a conception of themselves because they did not even allow them to know their age. That lack of information made them suffer a lot (p.22). It is a privilege to know where we come from, who our parents are, what do we like to do, what are our dreams. Things that do not sound so important, but without them we would feel lost. It is a shame to know that they were separated from their parents from an early age. But worse, that not living with them felt like something normal. As Douglass says, there were few times that he saw his mother to the point that his death did not affect him so much, because he received the news as if he had been a stranger (P.22). It is also a shame to know that the only thing they knew about their parents, most of the time was a rumor. Also, several times Douglass mentions his grandmother, aunt and his brothers, however he never describes having had a good relationship with them, because they lived in different places. What do I think about this? That it is an injustice for someone to keep you ignorant and have the power to deprive yourself of something so important. Human beings were born wishing and connection. We all deserve to feel belonging, love, and security.
I will continue talking about the different masters and the way in which slaves were forced to live. As I mentioned earlier, Douglass’s first master was Captain Anthony. The man was not considered rich, because he only had about thirty slaves, which seems to me a huge amount, but if we compare it with the four hundred slaves of Colonel Lloyd, there were few (P.23). Most of the time the masters had a highest in charge of farms and slaves. At first Douglass tells us about Mr. Plummer, whom he describes as a cruel, drunk, ruthless man, and a monster. It was not convenient to disobey it, because the author describes that he was an expert with the whip and in making women injured in his head, as was the case of his aunt Hester. The little Douglass was not used to witnessing those atrocities, since the scenes happened more frequently in the plantations, and being Frederick a child, it was careful to be careful for the old age outside the hacienda. But despite his young age, he knew that men like Plummer had no heart, nor were they humanitarian people.
As I said before, the masters felt affection, or commitment or solidarity towards slaves. Lived in bad conditions. There was a monthly assignment to distribute food and clothes for the whole year (P.24). When their clothes worn out, they were naked until the next installment. I imagine that because of this they suffered climatic conditions, when working their feet they worn more than usual, and I do not like to think about the situation of women by not being able to cover themselves and be victims of harassment of harassment. Likewise, they were not given bed, if much a blanket, since it was not considered a lack because most of the time they worked. But really, sleeping is a human need. Prohibiting that a person sleeps, at least enough hours, is cruelty, in fact it was a reason for their deaths, because resting helps to avoid diseases and maintain mental, emotional and physical health. Another mayoral, severe, is mentioned with features very similar to Plummer: "Since the sun rose until it was put, I was cursing, raving and distributing blows and lashes among the slaves of the fields" (P.26).
Most of the masters, major, and plantations owners, have the same characteristics: Lloyd, Gore, Lanman, Bondly, Hugh, Anthony, Coven, to mention some names. There are so many stories that describe their severe treatment. Each one had their shaped shape, but they all shared their hatred of slaves. It caused pleasure to punish and show their brutality, whether with the whip, hard objects, their own hands, or even a gun. In fact they mentioned never knew when they could evade punishment, because they were frequently whipped when they least deserved it (p.29). Likewise to control and scare them, if they committed their masters, different measures were taken: sometimes they were sold to other masters to separate them from their families or friends, other times they opted for the murder. One of the stories that caused me the most conflict, is when Douglass tells Demby’s death. After his master gave him a severe amount of whipping, he ran out and hid. His master, Gore, threatened him, to finally end his life. What was the justification? If a slave escaped alive, others would follow his example, "the result of which would be the freedom of slaves and the enslavement of whites" (P.32). What happened if you killed a slave? Nothing, it was not even subject to investigation.
Now, there were times when slaves had privileges, if it can be called that, that is, if they were lucky, they did not have a bad time. An example can be when they touched a notic not as severe, as was the case of Hopkins, who supplied Severe. Douglass describes him as a man other.23). After having a bad experience with the first one, Hopkins may not be a good person, but at least he was not cruel, proud, ambitious or feared by slaves. Speaking of this, also Douglass’s relationship with the master Lloyd served as a protection, since he took a certain love. Another example of privileges, was to be chosen to make the errands why? First, it was a task that were only given to the slaves of trust. Second, it was a way to get away from the field and heavy work, and if they were lucky, they could get appetizing food. Another way to calm the soul, was to create songs, which reflected the feelings of slaves. However, the author compares the songs with tears, because they only served as relief, but they did not express happiness (p.27). Finally, the one that considered the best advantage or luck for a slave, was to be sent to work in the city.
As I mentioned earlier, Frederick had the advantage of being sent to Baltimore at approximately 8 years of age. I would like to compare the field work with the city. First, something that Douglass mentions, is that they were given a couple of pants, because it was said that in Baltimore lived clean people, something that did not get used to seeing in the plantations. Also, in the city the slaves seemed free men, since the tasks were not so heavy, the food was enough, you could go out to the streets, and the conditions, as well as the master’s treatment to the slave was quieter. On the other hand, when the author tells his experience in the plantations, he describes constant hours of exhausting and guarded work (they could not stop or receive whips), insufficient food, extreme climatic conditions, among other characteristics. In a nutshell, it was a door to death. The people who survived that exploitation were counted. They lent them to die due to tiredness, diseases, including the wounds made by the masters, or a mixture of the three.
Another of the important points of the city is the fact that Douglass had the opportunity to learn to read and write, especially the way in which these tools contributed significantly in their life. Upon arriving in Baltimore, he found a different family than what was accustomed, in particular for his new Ama, Sophia Auld, who at first demonstrated the goodness of his soul. Before her heart was corrupted by the influences of slavery (and her husband), she taught Douglass the basics (alphabet and vowels). The key moment was when his master scolded her, telling him that if he taught a slave to write, there would be no way to control him. Phrase that opened the child’s mind, that from that lesson, he discovered his way to freedom. Although his love stopped his learning, the little boy sought ways to continue learning, regardless of the consequences. I reflected about this, because the one who wants can really. There are few people who have the opportunity to attend school, most do not realize the privilege and importance of it. That a teenager became aware of the power of learning and did something about it, despite his disadvantage, it seems wonderful and admirable (p.36-38).
Upon returning to the field, specifically at St. Michael, Douglass realized the hypocrisy of the masters, especially in relation to the religion they professed. He describes that his experience was 10 times worse, because the master who belonged, Thomas Auld, supported his cruelty in religion. He justified his actions due to the interpretation he gave to the Holy Scriptures. That is, there was a cognitive dissonance, an incongruity in what was known and made. On the contrary, it was with Freeland, Frederick’s last master, whom he called a gentleman, and who had no claims of religion (p.60). There was also a fraud system among the masters. At Christmas, slaves were granted a vacation that sounded excellent. However, it was a system in charge of changing the perspective, it seemed like a gift, but it was really a way to divert the rebel spirit of slaves. The attitudes of the aforementioned masters, came from their desires to hide the real reasons for their actions and hate they felt towards slaves.
Another important point of the text is to recognize the way in which the author sows his hope of freedom, which several times disappears due to the circumstances presented to him. The only thing that gave strength to continue mistreatment, torture and constant heavy work, was to know that one day I would escape. I could endure knowing that it would be happy to achieve freedom. In some moments of his life, clearly and rightly, he felt shattered not only physically, but of soul and spirit. One of my favorite parts is when he was about to receive a punishment from Covey (the slave tamer), and decided to fight and defend (P.57). It was an event that demonstrates the importance of showing resistance. Some time later, passing with Freeland, he got very good friendships. The relationship with other slaves also made the soul happy. They helped each other (to read for example), shared the same intentions and the same fears. They were above all, a motivation to move forward, being all oneself.