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Frederick Douglass: A Free Slave
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was born a slave; however, at an early age he decided to become a free man. Unlike many other slaves, Douglass set his mind on learning to read, convinced that education and knowledge would get him far in life. Lack of education and illiteracy were among the slaveholder’s most important tools to maintain slavery and therefore it seemed important for Douglass to educate himself.
Douglass was a humanist and fought hard to ensure his people a better quality of life. Once he was free, Douglass became a dedicated spokesman for the abolition of slavery and in support of women’s rights. He went across the country, and all over the world, to give speeches about his experience as a slave. He was unique in a way; he was well spoken and had a tremendous effect on people who listened to him. Douglass published many, if not all, of his speeches.
In addition to his public speaking at meetings for increased human and civil rights, Douglass published papers and books. Of his books, three were autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). Douglass did not only write autobiographies and articles but also a novella called The Heroic Slave, which was published in 1853. In December 1847 Douglass brought out the first issue of his newspaper, The North Star, which later became Frederick Douglass’s Weekly and finally Frederick Douglass’s Monthly (Gottesman, “Frederick Douglass” 2031). Douglass’ books reveal his different interpretations of slavery, describing slavery precisely, as he experienced it and as he witnessed it.
This essay draws upon Douglass’ second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, as well as some of his speeches. It is divided into five chapters: the first four recount how the slaves were suppressed by the means of physical abuse, disruption of family ties, ignorance, and religion, showing Douglass’ growing conviction that education and resistance were essential in the battle for freedom, which is the main concern of the last chapter.