The Life of Frederick Douglass: the Power of Reading

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: The Power of Reading

In the pre-Civil War plantations of the South, slaves were forbidden to read or write. In other words, they were forced to be ignorant and locked in mental darkness. In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he writes in dept about his life as a slave in these plantations. After leaning the ABC's and learning to spell words consisting of three or four letters from Ms. Auld, Frederick Douglass illustrates how he secretly taught himself how to read and write using various strategies such as: Learning the letters on the timber at Durgin and Bailey's ship yard, getting lessons from the white boy's he met on the street, Webster's Spelling Book, and master Thomas's copy-book. Frederick Douglass furthermore illustrates how he held his Sabboth School, teaching other slaves how to read and write. Learning to read and write provided Frederick Douglass with the empowerment to free himself from physical and intellectual enslavement.

The first step to Frederick Douglass's reading was his kind mistress, Mrs. Auld, Teaching him the ABC's. She then assisted him in learning to spell small words. It was at this point, that Frederick Douglass's master, Mr. Auld realized his wife has been educating Douglass to read. Mr. Auld refused to allow Mrs. Auld to continue teaching Frederick Douglass, stating that: "If you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would forever become unmanageable and of no value to his master" (47). Little did Mr. Auld know, he had just accidentally given Frederick Douglass an invaluable lesson as Frederick Douglass had overheard this conversation between Mr. and Mrs. ...

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...ng that many slaves learned to read and that at least one of his students is now a free man.

On September 3, 1838, Frederick Douglass succeeded in escaping a life of physical and intellectual enslavement. Though he does not say how he escaped, as he feels it would only benefit the slaveholders, he does mention that he ended up in New York and from there he moved to New Bedford with his new wife, Anna. After doing various labour jobs, Frederick Douglass used his intelligence, and past experiences to speak at the anti-slavery convention at Nantucken on August 11, 1841. He went from learning letters on timber, using the Webster's Spelling Book, and using his master Thomas's copy book to writing three autobiographies, became Secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, Marshal and Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia, and United States Minister to Haiti.

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