In the midst of adversity, two African American men defied the odds and learned to read and write during a time when even the mere thought of which would have had dire consequences. Frederick Douglass was born a slave and overcame the restraints of his time by obtaining the ability to read and write. Fast forward 80 years and we meet Richard Wright, though his time came after physical slavery had ended, mentally, he was just as educationally shackled as Douglass. Like Douglass, Wright was a man who yearned for knowledge. Both men have miraculous stories of how they learned to read and write during a time when it was considered illegal for an African American man to possess such skills. Two men, a common goal.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and it was all he knew, it was all he was bred to know. When Douglass was young he was introduced to the world reading by his mistress, “… a kind and tender-hearted woman…she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being
was not only wrong, but dangerously so.” (p.1-2). Eventually, her husband’s beliefs broke through becoming her own, against her better nature. “Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamb‐Iike disposition gave way to one of tiger‐like fierce‐ness.” (p.2). Soon, Douglass’s mistress had not only ceased their reading lessons, but refused to let him proceed reading all together. They were telling Douglass that his place lied exclusively in the darkness of his ignorance, just as they did to Wright. Though they tried, nothing was going to hinder him from pursuing is quest for literacy. Douglass now had to rely on his cunning and wits and by befriending some of the neighborhood poor kids, who already knew how to read and write, he would receive books from them and would have them teach him how to write in exchange for bread. He also taught himself to write by copying words that he saw in books and on the...
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