The fundamental element of a successful slave rebellion is a heroic slave rebel. Madison Washington of Frederick Douglass' The Heroic Slave and Henry Blake of Martin Delany's Blake or the Huts of America serve as models of that rebel. First, he must possess a will to stay and fight-he must not be content to just run away and gain individual freedom, abandoning his family and friends. Second, he needs intelligence, and preferably education as well, to be able to organize large, complex plans of rebellion. Finally, he must be a natural leader, drawing fellow slaves and free abolitionists to follow him and fight for his cause. Throughout the novels, examples of all of these characteristics can be found in both heroic slave rebels.
For most American slaves, there were only two paths to freedom: running away or successfully plotting and carrying out a rebellion. The path of flight was much easier and was the path chosen by almost all dissatisfied slaves who decided to take action. The slave who decided to stay and fight instead of fleeing had to have a force holding him back. This force could be described as a sense of duty to family and friends or a remarkable desire to make a change in the nation as a whole rather than just improving his own life. Both Madison Washington and Henry Blake, like all heroic slave rebels, were affected by this force, held back by it. They had acquired their individual freedom through flight, but then were called back to aid their families and friends. Without this force pulling them back, they would have been content to remain as runaways in Canada and would not have become heroic slave rebels.
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...hite man, I would have followed willingly and gladly in any honorable enterprise" (Douglass 68). Madison Washington's leadership skills during the insurrection aboard the ship were so great that they even impressed an old, prejudiced white sailor. Without this quality of leadership, his rebellion would have never been executed successfully.
These three characteristics-a will to stay and fight instead of running, intelligence, and great leadership-are all necessary to the successful rebel. Both Madison Washington of Frederick Douglass' The Heroic Slave and Henry Blake of Martin Delaney's Blake or the Huts of America embodied these characteristics and serve as good examples of the heroic slave rebel.
Delaney, Martin R. Blake or the Hunts of America. Boston: Beacon, 1970.
Douglass, Frederick. The Heroic Slave. New York, Penguin Books, 2003.
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