Continuing with our Black History month theme, I would love you to read a short, but powerful book with me: The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass. Originally written to demonstrate the evils of slavery, Douglass chronicles his childhood through his escape from slavery, delving into the psychology (though he does not call it that) of slave and master. Douglass is surprisingly eloquent and quite candid. It was written in 1845 to address a national sin that no longer exists as a legal issue. But it still has much to teach us today.
What struck me most about this engaging autobiography was, besides describing the effects of slavery on the slave, Mr. Douglass’s description of the effect of slavery on a slave owner were thought provoking. Not only did slavery degrade the life of the human that suffered under the oppression of being treated as mere property, the act of treating a human being as chattel degraded the oppressor in tangible ways. Mrs. Auld’s deteriorating character throughout the book bears this out for the reader. Ask your students to describe her.
The role of education, even the simple act of sounding out basic words, brought young Frederick to a realization of who God had created him to be and a discontentment with his lot in life as a slave, just as Mr. Auld warned his wife would happen if she taught a slave to read. Why does the written word hold this power? The answer speaks volumes about why God chose to have His words written down for His people to study and meditate upon. And why we must all be readers. But I will let that be a discussion topic for the dinner table, or at least in the comments below!
Mr. Douglass tells the reader that his desire to escape from slavery was strongest under those masters that were the most lenient. Under the most oppressive taskmasters he had little thought of freedom. At first glance one might think the opposite would be true. Why the burning desire for liberty when Frederick was decently fed and laboring where he chose (with limitations, of course)?
The author also describes the coveted Christmas vacation on the plantation in terms of the intense psychological warfare it produced. Slaves were encouraged to party in drunken revel. The were strongly discouraged from preparing for the future and taking care of themselves by creating hats, brooms and clothes for themselves. What are the reasons for this?
Finally, Douglass spent his life working toward ending oppression in many forms, including for the women’s suffrage movement. What do you think Douglass would be working on today and why?
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