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Frederick Douglass and Education

Like every slave that lived in his time, Frederick Douglass was deprived of a decent life, beaten, tortured and forced into hard labor but he succeeded in becoming a freeman. His strongest weapon was his education. This paper presents an analysis on the life of Frederick Douglass based on the book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave written by Frederick Douglass himself. It analyzes Douglass’ life experiences focusing on his views on education with the position: the strongest weapon against slavery is education.

It also presents my personal opinion in agreement to this position with supporting evidences of laws and documented events from other sources. Background The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave is a documentation of a slave’s struggles from childhood to adulthood and his eventual triumph to become a freeman. The events occurred in the early 19th century during the American colonial period when slave trading was at its peak. To acquire protection from law, Douglass submitted his memoir to the Anti-Slavery Office through the Clerk of Court of the State of Massachusetts in 1845. (Douglass, 1945, p.

1) The publication fueled the height of the abolitionist movement and paved the way to the abolition of slavery in the country. It also caused the repeal of many laws discriminating colored people from equal access to education. Douglass’ excellent writing skills made it possible to relate in detail his personal account of the inhuman treatment of slaves; the sufferings and the miserable fate of his fellow African slaves including his own. Douglass expressed in very passionate and eloquent ways the events, the perpetrators and the victims of the seemingly unending tragedy. He identified complete names, addresses and detailed circumstances.

These and his extraordinary means of acquiring literacy and education became valuable references to the history of colonial America. Douglass’ Views on Education At the verge of unending sufferings in the hands of his owners to the point of wanting to take his own life and even his master’s, Douglass was left with little hope that someday he would be free. He was about seven years old when he realized that the path towards his freedom is education. He had long waited for the chance to be educated and it came when his mistress taught him the basics of reading but his master found out about it and immediately put a stop to it.

Douglass overheard him saying, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger 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. Now if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. ” (Douglass, 1845, Ch. VI) This statement was to Douglass the greatest revelation. The strength of the whiteman’s power is the blackman’s ignorance. Douglass used this conviction to pursue his education with whatever means he had using his wit and adopting unique strategies.

He learned to write with the shipyard timber letters and he practiced it with the other children, who he outsmarted through his challenging tactics. He studied his master’s son’s school workbooks and took every chance to learn and practice with the other kids without them realizing it. He succeeded in educating himself armed with innate smartness and very strong determination. From then on, though he was still physically beaten and driven to hard labor, he became more and more in control. He had the edge because he was able to get information and felt at par with his master.

He eventually acquired his freedom. Personal Reflection Reading Douglass’ narrative was a worthwhile experience. I felt the desperation and hopelessness of Frederick Douglass and the other victims of slavery. I also felt the anger towards the slaveholders, slave owners and the government authorities who teamed up to commit such evil deeds. I realized that I was very fortunate to be born and raised in the present generation not to have experienced the abhorring condition of slaves in the 19th century. Being a slave meant involuntary servitude; it also meant slashes, whippings, beatings, insults.

Frederick Douglass had all these but not for long; he had his triumphs against his masters. He beat them by acquiring communication skills. His personal war against slavery was already won when he learned how to read and write. It was the start of getting knowledge and the start of him becoming unfit to be a slave. He acquired knowledge and learned about the human rights. He understood his situation and the plight of the other slaves in the country. Education was his strongest weapon. Like Frederick Douglass, I believe that every person, regardless of age, gender, race, religion or economic status, should have equal access to education.

It is the responsibility of the state to provide free access to every citizen of this country. Our forefathers once made a mistake. They surrendered their honor in exchange for the privilege of owning slaves. They turned their back on the law that they pledged to uphold: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 1776, p. 1). Supporting Evidences

While Douglass was fighting his battle for literacy, unknown to him, education of slaves was then an ongoing controversial issue all over America and Britain. Slave owners knew that education is a strong weapon against slavery that was why they were bent on keeping their slaves dumb, “the bigger fool, the better nigger” (Douglass, 1845, Ch. VI). Lawmakers who themselves maintained slaves protected their own interests and passed laws to assure that slaves were prevented from having access to any form of education. The South Carolina Act of 1740 was the first local legislation passed that clearly discriminated colored people.

It states, “…whereas, the having slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it enacted, that all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe, in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money” (Goodell, 1853, p.

1). This was followed by other legislations in different states legally prohibiting the provision of any form of education to African Americans especially slaves. Though there were attempts to put up schools for black Americans; Prudence Crandall opened a school in Canterbury, Connecticut but had to seek the help of Anti-Slavery Society to protect her school from local white perpetrators who attempted to burn her school building and used other tactics to stop her school operation.

John Chavis of Rayleigh, North Carolina and Margarett Douglass of Norfolk Virginia were caught teaching black children and were both imprisoned. (Walvin, 2008, p. 1) Conclusion Frederick Douglass, with practically no knowledge of family and his roots, grew up bearing only the hardships and pains of being a slave. But those who had the chance of being part of Douglass’ life; the slave owners, slaveholders, the perpetrators of the inhuman deeds to his fellow slaves, were documented in his narrative and a part of American history.

Douglass was a slap on their faces; they and their descendants forever bear the shame of their evil doings. In the end, the good shall triumph over evil. Douglass outsmarted them and stole the opportunity to earn his most valued education, his passage to freedom and which he used against them to end their reign. Works Cited Douglass, F. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Anti-Slavery Office, No. 5 Cornhill Boston MA, 1845. Retrieved 1 February 2009 from <http://www. gutenberg. org/files/23/23-h/23-h. htm> Goodell, W.

The American Slave Code in Theory and Practice: Its Distinctive Features Shown by Its Statutes, Judicial Decisions, and Illustrative Facts. New York: American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Part II, Chapter VI. 1853. Retrieved 1 February 2009 from <http://www. dinsdoc. com/goodell-1-2-6. htm> The Declaration of Independence 1776. Retrieved 1 February 2009 from <http://www. ushistory. org/declaration/document/index. htm> Walvin, J. Education of Slaves. (Excerpt) The Slave Trade. 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2009 from <http://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USASeducation. htm>

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