Frederick Douglass papers and biographies
I have been acquainted with his story and writings since the third grade. I attended St Cyril's Catholic School in Joliet, Illinois. My mom taught in the public school system.
I was not allowed to attend kindergarten because they knew I could already read. My mother taught me to read at the age of two. I do not remember ever needing help with homework or being told to do my homework.
My parents never discussed race before I was high school age. I never really paid attention to the fact that I was the only African-American in class when I was called the "N" word one day in the third grade. It did not upset me. I never heard the word before.
I can still see the hate and the face of the boy who used the word. I figured he had to be referring to my color. I remembered thinking, "I am light-skinned." If you are this upset, you should see my dad. I had always been one of the smartest students in my class. I knew this boy was upset because he knew that as well. I did not say anything to him or my teacher. I felt I did not know enough about the subject to fully respond.
I did not want to discuss it with my parents. I did not want a protective answer. I wanted to find out what where all the anger was coming from. I figured it had something to do with slavery.
I had the habit of always spending Saturday mornings in the library. I would find books to read during the week when I had finished my homework. I realized there were no faces that looked like mine in my school books. I started with the book, Up From Slavery, an autobiography by Booker T. Washington. I kept that book with me every school day until I finished it.
When I finished it, I began to read the autobiographies of former slaves. I feel in love with Frederick Douglass and his story. I was attracted to his writings because his words caused me to have to consult my Webster's dictionary. I loved the challenge. He started from nothing. He eventually freed himself and worked to ensure the freedom of others. His love for writing and education resonated with me.
When I had a child of my own, I homeschooled her from preschool through sophomore year. We purchased his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom from Barnes and Nobles and read it together. I am still learning from Frederick Douglass.
I believe we will learn a lot if we go back and capture the energy and principles which he taught during Pre-Civil War and Post-Civil War through Emancipation. These principles which he applied, helped him to develop by stages over time. I think the process from going from Frederick the slave to Frederick the publisher, abolitionist, and freeman, to Frederick the Reconstructionist can help in understanding life during those periods. We can identify how far we have come, what things we need to expunge from our slave memory, and what principles to instill for future generations. I hope you enjoy the journey with me.
Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is easy to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness and to defeat the very end of their being. They can neither honor themselves nor their Creator. Than this, no greater wrong can be inflicted; and, on the other hand, no greater benefit can be bestowed upon a long benighted people, than giving to them, as we are here earnestly this day endeavoring to do, the means of an education. It is aimed to make them skilled work-men, useful mechanics, workers in wood, leather, tin and iron.
It is sometimes said that we have done enough for the Negro; that we have given him his liberty and we should now let him do for himself. This sounds well but that is all. I do not undervalue freedom from chattel slavery. It was a great and glorious triumph of justice and humanity; it was the fruit of long years of labor, agitation and sacrifice. But let us look at his emancipation and see where it left the Negro, and we shall see how far it falls short of the plainest demands of justice and of what we owe the Negro.
To find an adequate measure of compensation for any wrong, we must first ascertain the nature and extent of the wrong itself. The mere act of enslaving the Negro was not the only wrong done him, nor were the labors and stripes imposed upon him, though heavy and, grievous to bear, the sum of his wrongs. These were indeed terrible enough; but deeper down, and more terrible still, were the mental and moral wrongs which enter into his claim for a slight measure of compensation. For two hundred and forty years the light of letters was denied him, and the gates of knowledge were closed against him.
He was driven from time to eternity in the darkest ignorance, herded with the beasts of the field; without marriage, without family, without school, and without any moral training, other than that which came by the slave drivers lash. People who live now, and talk of doing too much for the Negro, think nothing of these things, and those who know them, seem to desire to forget them, especially when they are made the basis of a claim for a larger measure of justice to the Negro. They forget that for these terrible wrongs there is, in truth, no redress and no adequate compensation. The enslaved and battered millions have come, suffered, died and gone with all their moral and physical wounds into Eternity. To them no recompense can be made. If the American people could put a school house in every valley; a church on every hill top in the South and supply them with a teacher and preacher respectively and welcome the descendants of the former slaves to all the moral and intellectual benefits of the one and the other, without money and without price, such a sacrifice would not compensate their children for the terrible wrong done to their fathers and mothers, by their enslavement and enforced degradation," Blessings of Liberty and Education