Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Illiteracy was an instrumental tool used to deprive slaves in an attempt to keep them ignorant and manageable during the 1800's. If slaves were to learn how to read, they could in turn be educated. The oppressing class during this time period realized that if slaves were able to become educated they could no longer be useful, for it would be increasingly difficult to exploit their services. The ability to read was the white man's power over slaves. Douglass, realizing the situation of his enslavement, took advantage of his privileges and began to secretly learn how to read and write. As he become more proficient in English, Douglass began to gain a following of slaves who were willing to learn. He used his knowledge to covertly conduct a school where he would teach other slaves the alphabet and numbers. The experience of teaching others brought tremendous joy to Douglass who felt he was providing a better opportunity to his fellow slaves.

Frederick Douglass is an exemplary example of why literacy was such a guarded commodity during the 1800's. When Douglass went to live with the Auld family, the mistress Mrs. Auld had never before owned a slave. Her behavior towards Douglass was different—kinder, and she even began to teach him the alphabet. When her husband, Mr. Auld, found out of her actions she was scolded and told that a slave should never be taught how to read. From that day on, Mrs. Auld never again taught Douglass any letters. Her attitude completely changed. Not only was the issue of slaves being illiterate keeping slaves ignorant, but the masters also. By Mrs. Auld's sudden change in attitude to Douglass it became apparent that the idea of slavery was not a natural occurrence, it was taught. When Douglass saw how protective Mr. Auld was over keeping him illiterate, he became more curious and concluded that education would be vital to the emancipation of his race. He used his knowledge of the alphabet to...
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