Life of Fredrick Douglas

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Brady Ricks

T-Th 8:00-9:20

What role did literacy play in his life? How did it affect his life? How did control of literacy affect the slave system?

Fredrick Douglass lived a very painful and tiring childhood, he was separated from his mother Harriet Bailey at a very young age. “It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age” (narrative 42). Often young children are given to an older woman to be taken care of, since the woman is no longer able to help in the field. Although the children are not let out to do field work until they are of proper age, they are not taught to read or to write while they are growing up. This is the case for all enslaved African Americans. Their lack of ability to read or to write hinders them in their ability to talk correctly to their masters or to one another. Slaves feel worthless to white children do to the fact that white children are taught to read and write at a young age. Most slaves do not know of their actual birthdate due to none of them having the ability to see or even be able to read their birth certificates.

Literacy played an enormous part in Frederick Douglass’s life. Douglass was shipped to Baltimore where he lived with Master Hugh’s family. While living there “my mistress was kindly commenced to instruct me” she helped Douglass learn his ABC’s and to read and write (narrative 65). His mistress however soon began to “practise her husband’s percepts” (narrative 66). This led to Douglass being punished more by his mistress than by Master Hugh’s. By this time Douglass was nearly twelve years old and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon him. He began to read as often as possible, he came upon a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” He began to read it every opportunity he seized; he soon realized that the book was representing a slave that had run away three times from his master. It showed how the...
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