Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 5. Segment 4
Frederick Douglass

In 1841, a runaway slave, a tall, handsome man named Frederick DouglassSee It Now - Frederick Douglass, speaks up at an abolitionist meeting on Nantucket Island, near Boston : "I felt strongly moved to speak. But the truth was, I felt myself a slave, and the idea of speaking to white people weighed me down."

Yet he finds the courage to speak out. Frederick Douglass just tells his own story: how he has lived and what he had seen. That is enough to send chills down the backs of his listeners. Hear It Now - Frederick Douglass "I never saw my mother more than four or five times in my life," he says. "She made her journeys to see me in the night, traveling the whole distance on foot (twelve miles), after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise. I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day."

Young Frederick became determined to read and write. He traded bread with white boys for reading lessons. But when he was sent away to a cruel new master, he was beaten with a whip until he was bloody and scarred See It Now - A Slave's Whip Marks. He was not given enough to eat. He was sent into the fields to work long, long hours. He saw the terrible things that happen when one person has complete control over another. He says Hear It Now - Frederick Douglass, "But for the hope of being free, I have no doubt that I should have killed myself."

What happened next is all put down in a book he wrote called Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, American Slave Check The Source - "Life with a Slave Breaker". But he didn't tell how he escaped to freedom. If he had, the slave catchers would have known how to capture others who were using the same route. Frederick Douglass kept telling people this simple truth: ''Justice to the Negro is safety to the nation.'' And he said things like this Hear It Now - Frederick Douglass: "People in general will say they like colored men as well as any other, but in their proper place. They assign us that place; they don't let us do it ourselves nor will they allow us a voice in the decision. They will not allow that we have a head to think, and a heart to feel and a soul to aspire. You degrade us, and then ask why we are degraded—you shut our mouths and then ask why we don't speak—you close your colleges and seminaries against us, and then ask why we don't know moreCheck The Source - Frederick Douglass: "My Bondage and My Freedom"."

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