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The Pathway from Slavery to Freedom

“Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” -Frederick Douglass

In terms of social status, Frederick Douglass was a “nobody.”

He was a poor illiterate slave.

Yet, he taught himself how to read, escaped from slavery, emerged as one of the central figures in the abolitionist movement, and became one of the most prolific and persuasive spokespersons for freedom.

My two favorite quotes by Douglass are as follows:

“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” 

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” 

It’s easy to get trapped in the game of measuring ourselves and our possibilities against the perceived value of our starting point.

Douglass is a reminder that true prestige, real power, and lasting prosperity are the results of what a man makes of himself irrespective of the oppressive forces and practical disadvantages that surround him.

Knowledge will always occupy a higher space than limitation, and those who commit themselves to learning will enjoy the freedoms of that space.

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. And……it was a crime in the south for Douglass to learn to read at that time.
    He taught himself anyway. How many of us would take such a risk today?

    In his mid teens, he was beaten up regularly by his owner, known as the tough
    guy in town. When Douglass eventually fought back and bested his owner, this
    posed a dilemma, as the owner couldn’t admit he’d been beaten by his slave.
    His “reputation” was at stake. So he kept quiet and stopped beating Douglass.

    It appears Douglass had figured this out about this bully owner and the lesson
    was to serve him well over the years about sizing up opponents. Especially as
    an abolitionist. He was to help Lincoln overcome his own reluctance to
    draft and deliver the Emancipation Proclamation. What a legacy!

    “Douglass is a reminder that true prestige, real power, and lasting prosperity are the results of what a man makes of himself irrespective of the oppressive forces and practical disadvantages that surround him.”

    The world is a better place for him having been in it.

    Terrific post. We need these reminders of what has come before us and helped
    to pave the way for us as human beings.

    To establish, in time, a true brotherhood of man.

    Alana

    1. And……it was a crime in the south for Douglass to learn to read at that time.
      He taught himself anyway.

      That idea is still barely fathomable to me. A society that makes it illegal for ANYONE to read. When I think of things like that, it makes me feel as if I’ve truly hit the historical jackpot in terms of when I was born. On days when I’m inclined to make excuses, it’s people like Douglass that “reel me back in.”

      How many of us would take such a risk today?

      That’s a good question. Rather than attempt to speculate on what the answer is (which is a perfectly fine activity), I feel inspired to pose this question, introspectively, to myself right now. This one to ponder. I recently watched Django and have been asking myself lots of questions about that time period and the psychology of those who lived within it. There is much food for thought there.

      In his mid teens, he was beaten up regularly by his owner, known as the tough
      guy in town. When Douglass eventually fought back and bested his owner, this
      posed a dilemma, as the owner couldn’t admit he’d been beaten by his slave.
      His “reputation” was at stake. So he kept quiet and stopped beating Douglass.

      That is one of my favorite “plot elements” in his story. I get chills thinking about the story of him grabbing the whip from Mr. Covey’s (sp?) hand and whipping him back. I love the fact that, according to Douglass, he had great difficulty with the notion of thinking of himself as a slave.

      It appears Douglass had figured this out about this bully owner and the lesson
      was to serve him well over the years about sizing up opponents. Especially as
      an abolitionist. He was to help Lincoln overcome his own reluctance to
      draft and deliver the Emancipation Proclamation. What a legacy!

      In the infamous words of Teal’c from Stargate SG-1, “Indeed!”

      Cheers to the establishment of “a true brotherhood of man”,

      TK

      1. Ah yes! T.K.

        I’ve found that reading biographies of many different people teaches me so much from their lives, for my life. Both the exemplary and the cautionary tale. From the simple to the sublime.

        So often we hear from immigrants that our generation doesn’t appreciate the
        freedoms we were born with. That we can take them for granted. There is a ring
        of truth to that.

        Learning from the past history of mankind and some of the stellar individuals
        who have graced our past history can help us to acquire a deeper appreciation, so that we can sustain these hard won liberties and blessings.

        Churchill made a very perceptive observation: “The further back we look into
        man’s past, the more clearly we will see the future.” (Being a longtime student
        of history himself.)

        I should elaborate that biographies (for me) help me to understand human
        nature more. Not just caricatures or cartoon cut-outs. That human beings can
        have their flaws, and in spite of that, accomplish wonderful things. That the
        human condition should strive for excellence, not perfection.

        That each person carries a “story” within them. Whether they’re aware of it or not.

        Perhaps to measure success not so much by the distance we travel, but the
        distance we travel from where we started.

        Imagine! There weren’t books for general reading before the Gutenberg press!

        You mention Django and I started thinking of Roots. (1977) I watched a PBS
        “The making of…” and discovered that most people, black and white, didn’t
        know the actual brutality of slavery. The way it was. They knew OF it but not what the OF meant viscerally. Whippings, beatings, selling of human beings, back breaking plantation labor, forced separations of families. Etc.

        Those of us who read a lot (including Alex Haley’s amazing book) know more
        about the actuality of slavery. But still there would be a gap between the
        experiencing of it and the learning of it.

        This was a miniseries that people planned to watch each week. They were watching it alone or together, at home. Local bars brought in large screen TVs for the first time. You bought your drink and then you sat and watched it in
        rapt silence. It was a phenomenon.

        Even then Lou Gossett Jr. (in Roots) took 4 hours to drive up a few blocks of
        Hollywood Blvd. Because that’s how often he was stopped by the police. (Not
        sure if these guys ever watched it?) Hmmm?

        Anyway, all of this is human nature stuff. Fascinating. Beguiling. illuminating.

        Again, I digress. And still want to address (yet) more of your points in your
        recent posts. But then you bring up even more points in other posts. I don’t
        think you’ll ever run out of points, i.e. ideas. The juice of life!

        Til the next post….

        Regards, Alana

        1. Guess what I’m watching now? Roots!

          I just bought the DVD set from Target and have started watching. I remember seeing some bits and parts when I was younger, but I didn’t really understand and I never watched in full. The scene where kunte kinte gets captured by the slave hunters still gives me chills.

          I really feel what you’re saying about biographies. Some of the best advice I received was from Peter Daniels. I attended a lecture of his and in the Q & A he told us “Read a thousand biographies because in doing so you’ll build a vast vocabulary of overcoming incredible odds.

          I love our conversations, Alana. I don’t think I’m capable of saying anything that you haven’t already studied and lived. You sharpen me.

          Cheers,

          TK

        2. Guess what I’m watching now? Roots!

          I just bought the DVD set from Target and have started watching. I remember seeing some bits and parts when I was younger, but I didn’t really understand and I never watched in full. The scene where kunte kinte gets captured by the slave hunters still gives me chills.

          I really feel what you’re saying about biographies. Some of the best advice I received was from Peter Daniels. I attended a lecture of his and in the Q & A he told us “Read a thousand biographies because in doing so you’ll build a vast vocabulary of overcoming incredible odds.

          I love our conversations, Alana. I don’t think I’m capable of saying anything that you haven’t already studied and lived. You sharpen me.

          Cheers,

          TK

          1. Very impressive. I envy your new discovery of Roots.

            Like Schindler’s List that brings home the holocaust as Roots does with slavery,
            Aristotle noted that “Art may be of more import than History as History teaches
            us things as they are, Art teaches us things as they ought to be and can be.”

            I believe it is still the 3rd highest rated TV program of all time. Levar Burton as
            the younger Kunta Kunte! Your reading rainbow favorite. He is an interesting
            man to listen to when he speaks.

            You’re a big movie fan. I see the best of them as great art.

            I was blessed with having the opportunity to see some of these in my early teens.
            Get a quarter and go to the show. Saw Zulu, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lawrence of
            Arabia, 12 Angry Men, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Defiant Ones, Shane,
            High Noon, Born Yesterday (“The whole point of learning is to make us bigger,
            not smaller.”) Too many good ones to list. Unrepeatable experiences. And
            along with books, a deep source of healing and horizons.

            To paraphrase you: “It feels good to have words (and movies) like that in my
            soul.” Know what you mean.

            Zulu (1964) is an amazing movie, based on a true story. 140 British soldiers
            against several thousand Zulu fighters (who were described by the Australian
            guide as) “able to walk 50 miles and fight a battle at the end of it.” Both sides
            fighting in this conflict and the Zulus shown as proud and mighty warriors in
            South Africa. The ending will surprise you.

            And the same answer for movies, as with books, viewed as-an-escape.

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