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Frederick Douglas

The story of Frederick Douglas plainly demonstrates the power of knowledge. As a child he was perplexed by slavery, about how one group of people could keep another under its complete control. However, it became clear when he heard his master adamant that he remain illiterate, “if he learns to read the Bible it will forever unfit him to be a slave…he should know nothing but the will of his master and learn to obey it.”  This furious insistence made clear how the relationship between slave and master is perpetuated – through shame and the darkness of ignorance. From then on Frederick extolled literacy and education.

Indeed, learning to read opened up Frederick Douglas’ world and gave him a sense of self-worth. Through reading the Bible and the Constitution it was clear his captivity was blatantly unlawful to the foundation of the country and hypocritical to Christianity. For him, these texts also verified the universally compelling idea that all humans are all equal and have the right to act and think for themselves.  Even though he was still legal property of his owner, his broadened perspective allowed him to be “a slave in form but not in fact”. His message of continually educating oneself remains relevant and encouraging, suggesting that even if you are unable to change the immediate reality of oppressive subjugation, you no longer need to remain a captive mentally and spiritually.


"I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact."


"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.

Power concedes nothing without a demand.

It never did and it never will."


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