I picked up this book from a pile of trash, among discarded clothes, CD cases and other things my college roommate had no use for. I couldn’t believe she was going to throw out this book or even any book. I’d held on to it since then, having learned about Frederick Douglass in history courses, school plays and class presentations, I thought I knew his story. Did anyone else have to pick a person during Black History Month and dress up and give a speech about “your life”. Every year there was a Frederick Douglass. Like said, I thought I knew his story. But this slim volume contains so much more than they would ever teach us in class. Isn’t that usually the case?
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is the first of three autobiographies. It focuses mainly on Douglass as a young boy, a slave who becomes increasingly aware and unsatisfied with his life as a slave and the images he sees of his fellow man. He struggles with what slavery has done to slaves and to the slave holders. He writes a lot about being hungry and witnessing whippings as a young boy. Douglass credits the turning point in his life to moving to Baltimore to work for a family and learning to read and write. He is increasingly able to see that control is not only physical but emotional and often times spiritual and that reading and writing can begin to change things for him. He actively seeks out people that will help him learn to read, becomes introduced to idea abolition and begins to work out a deal in which he can keep some of the wages he earns.
In what I’ve read about Douglass’ work readers seem to be surprised that a former slave could write such a piece. I was more moved by his appeal to emotions against slavery. He hits the emotions hard and I think it is because of this that Douglass is remembered as a great orator.
On the one hand, there stood slavery, a stern reality, glaring frightfully upon us, -it’s robes already crimsoned with the blood of millions, and even now feasting itself greedily upon our own flesh. On the other hand, away back in the dim distance, under the flickering light light of the north star, behind some craggy hill or snow-covered mountain, stood a doubtful freedom-half frozen-beckoning us to come and share hospitality.
Amazing stories like Douglass’ are numerous. They include topics beyond slavery, and should be shared and discussed all year. Black History is everyone’s history.
Image Credit pbs.org