Thursday, May 4, 2017

Frederick Douglass by D. H.

Frederick Douglass's autobiography served as a firsthand look into the life of a slave and a argument against the cruelties of slavery America. The first nine chapters gave detailed accounts of the pain, grief, and struggles that Douglass and other slaves that he lived around endured over the span of his childhood to his young adulthood. These chapters explained the many of his experiences: never getting to know his mother and never knowing who his father was, watching his family members be beaten and abused, hearing of and seeing other slaves being whipped, attacked, and even killed, sleeping on damp cold floors and being underfed and under-clothed... he provides a seemingly endless amount of traumatic accounts that he had somehow survived.

Everything detailed within this reading was from the perspective of Frederick Douglass himself. This was a powerful tool. No longer would the horrors of slavery be explained in distant and obscure ways. His novel made it all personal and very real. The voices of slaveholders and anti-abolitionists are never truly heard, only documented from Douglass's perspective.

The class primarily discussed what we found shocking about slavery, seeing as this was our first experience with a resource that documented slavery from a firsthand perspective. We discussed Douglass's purpose and how his skill as a writer and speaker on slavery and his experiences drove the Abolitionist movement. Furthermore, the class spoke of how Douglass had honed his ability to sway the hearts of Northerners and Westerners and that this experience likely had a powerful effect on how he worded his writing and what he did and did not share. The class talked about the difference between the personal stories of Douglass and the impersonal writing of abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison.

Most questions made by the class remained on the topic of the nature of slavery. Those included how slave songs worked and the culture around them. We came to the conclusion that they were heavily coded and were often used to communicate that slaves were planning to run away. We also inquired about the underground railroad and the ways in which Northerners helped runaway slaves. The answers that we reached were that Northerners often disregarded national laws concerning fugitive slaves or made laws that directly contradicted federal laws on the topic. Northerners housed slaves, used their homes as markers and hints to reach the railroad or as signs that they were friendly to slaves, and that the Fugitive Slave Act ended up creating a strong opposition of slavery in the North because it reinforced the harsh reality and cruelty of slavery when bounty hunters and policemen entered their communities and hauled slaves away before their very eyes.

These first nine chapters leave many questions behind, despite the amount of information and detail that it offers. What other kinds of books and newspapers did Douglass read in Baltimore? Were slaves in households more commonly better fed and clothed than slaves on plantations? What were some other slave songs that Douglass knew of and what could they mean? What did he read about concerning slavery that he found to be untrue?