Isolated as a newborn child from his slave mother and having never gained the opportunity to meet his white father; Frederick lived with his grandmother on a Maryland estate until the age of eight when his proprietor resolved to send him to Baltimore to work as a house worker for a family associated with Hugh Auld (“Frederick Douglass”). It’s believed that Hugh’s wife defied state restrictions and consistently taught the young Douglass how to read and write when state law restricted African American children from accessing formal education (nytimes.com). His education, however, did not last long after his master determined that educating him would make him a rebel and make him unfit for servitude (“Frederick Douglass”). Frederick was determined to continue with his education and learn more through the assistance of schoolboys that he engaged with on the streets (Russell, 12).
Upon the passing of his master, he was sent back to the estate as a field hand at 16. Later he was sent out to Baltimore, where he learned more skills in his new work as a ship caulker. Frederick attempted to escape from Baltimore in a group of four in 1833, but their plans were uncovered before they could be executed (Teaching American History, 2). After five years, he finally managed to free himself. After that, he went to New York City and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he worked for as for a long time and managed to evade slave trackers after adopting Douglass as his surname (Russell, 14).
Douglass is known for his struggle in learning how to read and write. Through becoming literate, he was able to play a prominent role in the abolition of slavery in the United States. Learning how to read and write at an early age became the key to Douglass’ freedom. It was through becoming literate that Douglass walked away from slavery (University of Houston Digital Library).
Ryden (12) argues that Frederick Douglass recognized early in life the great potential for literacy to transform his life. This explains why he pursued education with such determination and focus, throwing all his efforts into his quest to become literate because it was through education that he could recognize his worth. For Douglass, learning how to read and write was the only way to succeed in life as a black person. This is the legacy he left behind for future Blacks in the United States, and it explains why he serves as a role model for African Americans even today. Ryden (14) states that Douglass was able to end his enslavement mentality by learning how to read and write, which he recognized as a pathway from slavery to freedom.
Warnick (26) traces Douglass’ learning how to read and write to the period of his enslavement under the Aulds, who were his white owners early in his life. The Frederick Douglass Heritage indicates that Hugh Auld and his wife, Sophia Auld, lived in Baltimore. Douglass was sent to them in 1826 to serve as a caretaker of their toddler son, Anthony. While Douglass was serving in this capacity, Sophia Auld took it upon herself to teach him how to read and write. Warnick (26) states that Sophia taught Douglass ABCs and basic spelling. However, when her husband discovered that she was teaching Douglass how to read and write, he disapproved strongly, terming it unlawful and unwise to teach a slave how to read. Hugh Auld argued that there would be no sense in keeping a slave once he became literate.
However, the interest in reading and writing had already been ignited within Douglass. Despite the disapproval of his white master, Douglass continued to learn how to read and write, and in doing so, became unfit for slavery. He read several books on emancipation which played a significant role in changing his worldview and helped him understand the injustice of slavery. In 1830, Douglass came across the book, The Columbian Orator, from which he gathered the concept of freedom and human rights (The Frederick Douglass Heritage Website). Although his growing literacy steadily transformed him, much to his joy, Douglass also experienced frustration because reading exposed him to possibilities in life that were not available to him because of his slave status.
Nonetheless, Douglass kept up with reading because it allowed him to explore the possibilities of life despite the pain and contradictions involved (Warnick 27). As a young man, Douglass became active in the church, where he improved his reading, writing, and speaking skills. This played an important role in preparing him to participate in the anti-slavery movement actively.
Douglass goes to deep extents to expound on each unique part of why African Americans have a similar characteristic right to opportunity as do some other people. Individually, he proposes that freedom should be accorded to slaves because they have learned skills and can take care of business without relying on others and thus qualified for freedom. He asserts that it isn’t right to make men “beasts,” lastly, that subjection isn’t divine (Waxman & Olivia, 3). With every word, he explains that every contention is so essential, so understood, that it need not be contended.
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