Contrary to popular belief, the issue of African-American racism and slavery in the United States did not begin in the early 1970s. Slavery has already begun in the early 1700s with most of these slaves transported from Africa and other far-flung regions, while some African slaves married Hispanic Americans who were also treated like slaves. Many slaves had resigned to their faith and considered themselves lucky if they would have gained their freedom in those days. However, like the recent slavery and racism movement in the 1970s, there were those who dreamed to remove the boundaries raised by slavery. These men and women vowed to make a difference and ensure that they would gain the total equality and rights as Americans and as people, eliminating the slavery class that has restricted them with life. One of these men who dreamed for equality for all Blacks and Hispanic classes was Frederick Douglass . Through his speeches and his autobiography, Frederick Douglass was able to concentrate in calling for the abolition of slavery by expressing his own experiences. He fearlessly depicts blow-by-blow accounts of what he has experienced as a slave to catch the attention of his listeners, informing them of the plight of slaves to enable them to understand why there is a need for abolition of a policy that restricts slaves from claiming their rights and the respect of others.
Frederick Douglass or Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in a small town in Tuckahoe Maryland in February 1818. African slaves were prominent in Northern America, shipped from various points in Africa to work in small Islands such as the Caribbean Islands or in the Maldives. His mother, Harriet Bailey, was a slave working for a retired Captain Aaron Anthony, rumoured to be the father of Frederick. Rare accounts describe Frederick Douglass’ childhood, however from his official autobiography, Douglass knew his father was a white. Only little evidence also shows his exact birthday considering that slaves were not given enough emphasis in terms of legal services in that period. Anthony was a very rich man, capable of affording thirty slaves; including Douglass’ entire family. The young Douglass was first unaware of his fate as a slave, especially due to his upbringing by his grandparents Betsey and Isaac Bailey. Douglass commented that his life with his grandparents was spirited, joyous, uproarious, and happy; he did not have any hint that he was going to be left alone in the Wye House when they visited it. Once he realized he was left alone by his grandmother in the Wye House, his nightmare began as a slave .
Being a slave was a wakeup call for Douglass as he was mistreated by the head of the kitchen, which he knew as Aunt Katy. Aunt Katy bullied him without reason, often punishing him for things he did not do. He was also given chores that would be impossible for children to complete, and his meals were only small portions, doing nothing to appease his crumbling stomach. The little reprieve he gained when he stayed in the Wye House is the fact that he got to spend some time with his brother, sister, and his mother Harriet. Harriet was working in the nearby plantation from the Wye House, and would walk each night to spend some time with Douglass. The last time Harriet saw the young Douglass was the time Douglass was found pulling corn from the fields for dinner. Aunt Katy refused to give him any food without reason that day, and Harriet threatened Aunt Katy for abusing his son. Douglass felt immense love for Harriet’s act that night, however, it was the last time he met his mother as she died a year later. Later on, immense pride overwhelmed Douglass when he found out that Harriet was the only black slave that was able to read and write in their period. The feat alone was impressive as blacks were prohibited to read and write .
Two years after he was left in the Wye House, Douglass was lent to Hugh and Sophie Auld in Baltimore. His time with the Aulds enabled him to learn and feel being a child as Sophie would read and teach him how to read and write. Sophie Auld also treated him as a son, allowing Douglass to learn alongside the Auld’s son Thomas. Although Hugh Auld stopped Sophie for further teaching the young orator, Douglass already began teaching himself how to understand how to read and write. He also realized his dream to find freedom while with the Aulds, especially after he purchased the book “The Columbian Orator”. The book’s main theme is to explain how some people believe that slaves were also like their masters, they also have rights and must be given their freedom. This theme enabled Douglass to dream for freedom and fight for it. He was also helped in understanding this goal thanks to Dr. Lewis Wells, a pastor who taught Bible passages depicting stories of slaves being freed from oppressive leaders. However, his status as a slave earned him punishment from his owner Thomas Auld when he tried to educate other slaves into realizing the importance of freedom .
When Douglass managed to free himself from slavery, he began touring various states in the country to build support in the abolition of slavery in the region. He also had to change his name to Douglass after a character in the “Lady of the Lake”, written by Sir Walter Scott. Throughout his campaign to abolish slavery, his speeches and works enticed even then President Abraham Lincoln to support his campaign. Albeit the slow process, Douglass was able to secure the 13th, 14th, and the 15th Amendments which bans slavery and give former slaves a right to vote and become a citizen of the country. Douglass also several positions in government, maintaining his firm position of equal rights to all as he helped black rights and women’s rights to suffrage be known to the public. He was also able to come to the country which inspired him to begin his quest for quality, Egypt. However, Frederick Douglass died on the 20th of February, 1985 after attending a rally advocating women’s rights to suffrage .
Throughout his tenure as a writer, orator, and a member of the abolitionist core; Frederick Douglass was able to write several pieces that mark his creed to influence people into supporting the abolition of slavery. He wrote his autobiography “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” in the 1840s, detailing his experiences as a slave and his sentiments of slave freedom. Several speeches were also by Douglass in his tenure as an abolitionist such as “The Church and Prejudice”, “Self-Made Men”, “Speech at the National Hall 1863”, and “What to a slave is the 4th of July?”. In one of his other speeches, namely his speech “What a Black Wants”; he expressed this line:
Men are so constituted that they derive their conviction of their own possibilities largely by the estimate formed of them by others. If nothing is expected of a people, that people will find it difficult to contradict that expectation. By depriving us of suffrage, you affirm our incapacity to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public measures; you declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise, and by this means lead us to undervalue ourselves, to put a low estimate upon ourselves, and to feel that we have no possibilities like other men .
Analyzing the chosen text from the speech “What a Black Wants” presents certain key aspects of Frederick Douglass’ rhetoric that earned him the respect of the public. The form on how it is written is direct and self-explanatory. He uses symbols to explain how men are influenced by what others depict of them without much thought, using the case of slaves as an example. Frederick Douglass, throughout his years as an abolitionist, was straightforward as seen in his autobiography. In this passage, it shows exactly how he thinks about slavery and why there is a need to stop it. By providing an example, using the situation of slaves in the passage, Douglass was able to determine accurately the cause of the problem (whites underestimating blacks) and link it to the general problem (blacks not being able to fight back). Upon reading the entire speech, the chosen passage showcases the key reason as to why the problem of slavery was not easily abolished in the minds of the Whites and the Blacks. Since Whites continue to rub their superiority and color to the Blacks, it lowers the Black slaves’ self-esteem and will to fight back. This alone presents the dangerous balance of persisting slavery in the period.
Upon reviewing Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and studying his speech “What a Black Wants”, his life and works presents the ignorance of many once their social class and race is put into the equation. Whites were mostly ignorant of the rights of Blacks, especially slaves, because they were considered pure. This notion alone was influential to the Blacks because this lowered down their self-esteem. Douglass was able to identify this simple fact and turn it into rhetoric to enable other slaves to fight back. His speeches and works even helped Whites to realize their mistake, realizing that Blacks were no different to Whites. In a personal remark, Frederick Douglass was able to let me recall how ignorance and pride can turn common sense against a person. Slavery would not branch out from nowhere if there is no source.
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