Douglass’s Feelings on Education

Frederick Washington Augustus Bailey was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in February 1818. Frederick had a complicated family life. He had somewhat of an idea of who his mother was. She resided on another plantation and passed away when he was young. Frederick had no idea of who his father was and when he turned eight years old his slave-owner employed him to work as a body servant in Baltimore. At a young age of 12, Frederick purchased a book called The Columbian Orator. The book was an assortment of debates3, revolutionary speeches, and writings on natural rights.

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At 15 years of age, Frederickr’s slave-owner took him to the Eastern shore to work as a farmhand but he rebelled continuously. At that young age, he shared knowledge to other slaves and physically fought against a slave-breaker. His frustrated slave owner took him to Baltimore and this is where he interacted with a free black woman called Anna Murray. With the help of Murray, Frederick escaped on September 3, 1838 disguised as a sailor. In less than one day, Frederick arrived in New York City and declared himself a free man. He successfully escaped slavery. Frederick Douglass is one of the most significant abolitionists who established a link between literacy and freedom. His theories continue to shape the perceptions towards education and its role in empowerment.

As a young boy, Frederick realized that freedom could only be achieved through literacy. Since he was not allowed to attend school, Frederick took it upon himself to write and read in the streets of Baltimore. After his escape, Frederick Douglass settled in New York which was a safe haven for abolitionists. Once he moved to New York, Frederick sent for Anna Murray and the two married September, 1838. They had five children together. After their wedding, the couple moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts where they met Nathan and Mary Johnson a couple who were free people of color. It was this interaction with the couple that inspired Frederick to take on the name Douglass, a name inspired by the main character in Sir Walter Scottr’s poem, The Lady of the Lake. After settling in New Bedford, Douglass started going to abolitionist movement gatherings. His attendance at this meetings exposed him to the writings of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison and Douglass became friends when the two were asked to lecture at an abolitionist movement meeting during which Douglass shared his story of escape and slavery. Garrison motivated Douglass to become a part of the abolitionist movement.

By 1843, Douglass had become an important part of the American Anti-Slavery Society. They hosted conventions throughout the United States. Douglass was attacked several times during the tour by those opposed to the abolitionist movement. In a significant attack in Pendleton, Douglass broke his hand and he never regained the full use of his hand. The abolitionist meetings were only the beginning of Douglassr’s abolitionist campaigns. Two years later, Douglass released the initial and most popular of his five autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. After the release of his autobiography, Douglass travelled to Great Britain and Ireland at a time when the country was in the early stages of the Great Hunger. Douglass was impressed by the freedom he experienced overseas. It was during this visit that he met Daniel OConnell who would become a significant inspiration to his work later. In the iconic London Reception Speech, Douglass outlined the suffering of the three million slaves back in America who were denied of their rights. Douglass openly condemned Great Britain for being a land that supposedly bragged of its liberty, humanity, Christianity, justice and purity, yet they allow slaves to suffer in a land just outside their borders.

During the slavery years, most enslaved men and women made an effort to acquire education. However, it was an almost impossible endeavor for those who wanted to gain education. It had to be done secretly so that slave owners would not become aware of the lessons. In most cases, men and women who tried to learn were just warned that this was not allowed. In Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia laws were legislated from the 1700s into the nineteenth century to ban education for slaves. It also restricted anyone to teach them to write, read or any other form of education. If any of the slaves broke these laws the consequences would be severe. The forms of punishment would include strikes, beatings, imprisonments and death. These rules and punishments made it frightening for the slaves to continue learning. They had to carry on their lives as illiterate.

Most slave owners were opposed to the education of slaves mostly since they were afraid of losing their labor and fear of defiance. If slaves would become literate they would most likely rebel since a high level of education would raise their status in the society and they would start listening to abolitionist. Their fears became clear after reading abolitionist efforts in newspapers and books. Most slave owners actually believed that if slaves became literate they would read the bible and discover that it states no human should own the other. The white slave owners believed that the literacy of slaves would do more harm than good. However, they would allow the slaves to know a trade such as arithmetic if it served their interests. Most women and children who were focused on learning devised creative ways to learn. They would often try to enlist the help if white children playing outside away from their parents since most of these children were not yet biased. Some enslaved children such as Frederick Douglass were lucky enough to have a master whose wife was willing to teach the slaves. Sundays were the most appropriate days for slaves to interact but it was a dangerous endeavor since most armed men would hunt them down.

During the civil war most literate slaves ran away from their owners and joined the army. Most of these servicemen would later become trainers during the war. Frederick Douglass authored three biographies Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave published in 1845, My Bondage and My Freedom, published in 1855 and his last autobiography, which was published in 1881, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. All these biographies demonstrate Douglassr’s belief of education and its significance towards freedom. When discussing his education, Douglass made it clear that not many in his community and race were lucky to learn such skills. This was particularly true in Tuckahoe as slaves were not allowed to read. Frederick Douglass indicated that when his mother died he learned she was literate and was the only slave in Tuckahoe with an education. Douglass goes on to share his surprise with his motherr’s literacy since Tuckahoe would be the last place in the world where a slave could learn to read and write. He stated that slaves gained knowledge that was different than the ability to read and write. When discussing his grandmother who was knowledgeable in nursing, planting and fishing, Douglass made a point that enslaved men and women were allowed to possess such skills since it made them better slaves, but were not allowed to acquire knowledge that would make them better in terms of social status.

Douglass made it clear that education had a key influence to achieve freedom since it empowered black people to gain control over the ruling class that enslaved them. Most slave owners understood the impact that education could have on the attitudes of the slaves. The slave owners were afraid that education would help slaves claim their rights and challenge the social structure of slavery. Slave owners understood that the slaves drive to attain literacy would help their desire to attain freedom. Banning education for enslaved women and men enabled the white owners absolute power. Frederick Douglass believed that slavery and education were two opposite ideas since individuals who were enslaved could not utilize their education since they do not have a free mind or body. Douglass demonstrated this point by referring to the event where Sophia Auld was restricted from teaching Douglass showing that slavery and education are incompatible. Douglass indicated that he always wanted to be free.

Hugh Auld stopped the reading lessons his wife provided to Douglass. This was a significant moment in Frederick Douglassr’s life. Hugh made this decision based on the idea that acquiring education would make Douglass unfit to be a slave and make him rebel. It was at this moment that Douglass realized that lack of education was the white manr’s tool to continue enslaving the black man. The education ban fuelled Douglass to acquire more education and managed to continue learning over the next seven years. Douglass indicated that his quest to gain more knowledge was actually a curse on him since he now felt guilty that he had the knowledge other slaves did not have. Douglass knew that slavery was unethical and wrong and envied the illiterate slaves that had not acquired this knowledge through education. The education Douglass gained had exposed him to the evils of slavery but did not provide him with a way to get out. Frederick Douglass always imagined that becoming literate would make him free.

It was not the skill of reading itself that would make him free, but rather it was the introduction of the idea of freedom that strengthened his desire that anything is possible including achieving freedom. Douglassr’s education was instrumental in helping him escape slavery and the ability to write successful novels. When writing about the protections for the men he escaped with in 1836, he indicated that they had been given authorization to visit their families. This shows that through his autobiographies this belief that education was connected to freedom.
Frederick Douglass described in his autobiographies how he came to learn about the word abolitionist. He had encountered the word in a conversation he heard at Auldr’s house. He knew that slave owners were against abolition and slaves agreed with it. He learned the meaning of the word in the Baltimore American in his earlier attempt at understanding what the word truly meant. Therefore, his education was instrumental in realizing that the treatment he and the slaves endured was unfair and began to believe the idea to be true. Douglassr’s efforts to learn the meaning of the word and acquiring education was an attempt at changing the dehumanizing nature of slavery.

The connection made between education and freedom as suggested by Frederick Douglass is still at play in the present day. Establishing equal opportunities in education in other countries as well as ours has been an unfair and slow process. There still exists continued problems to provide African-Americans with equal opportunities for education. Despite the gains African-American have made toward higher education, it is still disproportionately white and the idea of equal opportunities is still unfinished business. The problems that exist today with the access to education can be traced back to the slavery period. The unequal access to educational opportunities has placed African-Americans at a disadvantage compared to other races in the United States. On the other hand, it can be argued that equal access to education opportunities provided for African Americans has not been the key solving the inequality issue.

African-Americans were the only race that experienced slavery in the United States. They primarily lacked freedom and rights and were considered second rate compared to other races. The day-to-day life of a slave was managed and limited to many forms of freedom. Education was an example of such freedom since it caused free thinking and led to rebellions in the South. Few slaves had the opportunity of receiving education and Douglass was among the lucky ones to accomplish this goal in a region where the practice was forbidden. He still succeeded despite knowing that he could be punished or executed. Douglass’s devotion to learning helped him survive some horrible experiences as a slave. Writing his thoughts in a biography about his experiences was the ultimate weapon in the fight against slavery. His act of rebelling made Douglass a well-known activist at a time when slaves were thought of as inferior. His education was key to his freedom from slavery and helped other African-Americans in their fight.

Douglass’s feelings on education, however, seemed undefined at some points in the section where he expressed his search to gain more knowledge was actually a curse on him since he now felt guilty that he had the knowledge other slaves did not have. Douglass knew that slavery was unethical and wrong and felt bad for the uneducated slaves that did not know how human beings should be treated ultimately. Douglass was man who knew too much in a time when knowledge was limited and felt ashamed for doing so, but looking back, his knowledge helped more people in limitless ways by helping African-Americans move forward towards equality.

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Douglass's Feelings On Education. (2019, Jun 10). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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