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Narrative of life


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Narrative of life

  1. 1. NARRATIVE OF LIFE, OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS; REPRESENTATION OF AFRICAN- AMERICANS UNLIKE RACIAL SUPERIOITY PRESENTATIONS OF BLACK-SLAVE EXPERIENCES. JONATHAN, ABAYO. 8th May, 2014. In simple definition African-American are black American of African descent/, As Contemporarily preferred. In USA stands for people of African ancestry; Regarding Origin & History African-American isolated instances from at least 1863 (Afro-American is attested in 1853, in freemen's publications in Canada), but the modern use is a re-invention first attested 1969 (in reference to the African-American Teachers Association) which became the preferred term in some circles for "U.S. black" ( American) . The story of African-American or as being documented in many whites’ books and articles as Negros, mulattoes, colored, blacks just to mention a few; these names denotes assault, devaluation, discrimination and disregard to African-Americans existence in Americans by white colored skinned people . It can vividly be realized that African-Americans have the close relationship with African continent.This incidence can be clearly explained in the light of the SLAVE TRADE which took place during the error of colonization of African continent by whites, during the period of Atlantic-slave- trade(Triangular-slave trade), the trade involved three major continents, African as the source of slaves, Europe as the main transporters and the slave masters, and American as the new site for working where these slaves where directed to work in the big plantations, this took place between1619 to 1865 ( The stastic shows 80+ percent of all slaves arriving in North America came directly from Africa  Senegambia—13 percent (coast between present day Senegal and Gambia)  Gold Coast—16 percent (most of present day Ghana)  Bight of Biafra—23 percent (most of present day Nigeria and Cameroon))  Windward Coast—11 percent (present day Liberia and Ivory Coast)  Region between Angola and Congo—25 percent (present day Congo, Zaire, Angola, Namibia)
  2. 2. It is noticeable that after the long stay in American states and after the failure of fulfillment of American dreams declaration by President Abraham Lincoln in his own words he asserts “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States were it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Also the emergence of Jim Craw-Rules refused to recognize African-American presence to every single line of its statute. African-American already began to reestablish their lives in America, though life was extremely difficult and unsafe for any black slaves, they were not fully accepted as the citizens of America. They were greatly placed under the bondage of slavery that shackled their entire freedom, mentally, physically, socially as well as politically so saying. In the course of slavery many African-American were not totally passive the group of abolitionists was operating secretly to strive for emancipation of Blacks slaves from the savage and brutal nature of slavery. In this case many slaves were helped to escape from such severity. White government realized such African-Americans movements and abolitionist revolutions hence they sought for ways to protect their welfare; that principally existed under the exploitation of Negros labor force as slaves, hence in 1850 they enacted Fugitive slave Law that gave right to white slave masters to capture African –American slaves whenever they escape. This Law was heavily rejected and disagreed among labeled slaves. This was shown by learned blacks like Samuel May, Jr., Unitarian minister of Lei- cester, had urged the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to adopt in 1850: "WE DO HEREBY DECLARE OURSELVES ENEMIES OF THE CON- STITUTION, UNION AND GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and the friends of a New Confederacy of States, where there shall be NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS, but where there shall ever be FREE SOIL, FREE LABOR, AND FREE MEN."45, also In 1855 Wendell Phillips, for example, urged individuals to abstain from all contact with slaveholding government. Such action, he thought, would create a new majority which would be the seed of a new antislavery nation.4, 2 Stephen Foster also promoted individual withdrawal, advising in Revolution the Only Remedy that abolitionists join slaves and fugitives out- side and against the prevailing government, Worcester Unitarian minister Thomas Higginson put it, come "face to face with the United States government." Freedom might, he thought, come only with violence. But "if it is coming, in God's name, let it come quickly!"6, other abolitionist like William Dubois, Martin Luther King, many others fought extensively against racial segregation and disfranchisement of African-American opportunities, access and privileges to participate
  3. 3. fully in political, education, and other socio-economical practices alongside preserving their cultures see more details from Journal of American History (Pease& Pease 1950). This situation led Black in 1990s to seek for education as major means of liberation as explained in Nathan Hare Essay (1934). Also on Talking Back (1989) explains on the white supremacist structure that is major constrain to Blacks life hardship, and calls for true liberation and freedom searching by enlightening black people to consciousness of who they are, and what they can do for their emancipation. Aesop's Fables Translated by George Fyler Townsend The Man and the Lion A MAN and a Lion traveled together through the forest. They soon began to boast of their respective superiority to each other in strength and prowess. As they were disputing, they passed a statue carved in stone, which represented "a Lion strangled by a Man." The traveler pointed to it and said: "See there! How strong we are, and how we prevail over even the king of beasts." The Lion replied: "This statue was made by one of you men. If we Lions knew how to erect statues, you would see the Man placed under the paw of the Lion." Before taking the whirl to show the relationship between this old fable and Frederick Douglass’s narrative we can suggest that the reason to why Wendell Philip used this fable to his audience was to tell the multitudes that since story writers are winners, most stories of slaves were written by white people, hence Douglass’s story is most genuine story that represent the entire encounters of African-American experiences. We can now pause for a while to exhaust the relationship existing between “the old fable of the man and the lion” and Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass an American slave written by himself. From the fable, and in the context of our question we can interpret the metaphorical use of the Man to mean slave masters (whites) and Lion to stand in the place of the slave(blacks), the status are laws/conventional rules that according to the story are made by men as the Lion
  4. 4. reply back to the man after man’s pride to entangle lion. Further more in referring fable we can observe that the Lion’s reply suggests that since men (white slave masters) had disfranchised Lions (Black slaves) right to know how to make status, what does it mean here? For many years African-American have been denied and limited the right to knowledge access hence they depended solely on second hand information from their masters, because they could neither read nor write, hence they were forced ignorantly to accept things they did not comprehend their roots. Simply the lion says to the man, who showed the status that display the lion entangled, which to the man it implies that men are stronger in power, intelligencer and prowess that we can easily represent things as we wish them to be. So man (White slave masters) created all favorable atmospheres to put blacks under their control by depriving them, social, political, economical, education and all appropriate opportunities available so as to manage and keep black as slaves for eternity. In the letter written by Wendell Phillip he asserts from the beginning “I am glad the time has come “when the lions wrote history.” We have been left long enough to gather the characters of slavery from involuntary evidence of the masters. In Wendell latter we can find some facts of how the lion (An American slave Douglass) has learned to master A, B, C, and knew where white sails, he also declare to put entire confidence in Douglass narrative as true to what he says experience is a keen teacher hence Douglass being experiencing slavery himself and he has been with his fellow slaves for quite some years, that make him worth of his documentation details on slavery. He also claims that Douglass total specimen of cruelty, and for that he say “after all I will read your book with trembling for you.”He continue to show how the fugitive law of the North is prevailing over slaves who escape like Douglass as seen in (page 111) of the narrative when Douglass says “I said I felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions.” To mean all slave masters who were deciding for his life. He talks about the African- American who take courage to trample the whites’ constitutional laws that oppress black slaves and says “Statute in such case made and provided”. As in the old fable Wendell encourage Douglass to keep on struggle for abolition and challenge the statutes made by slave masters, so as to set free his fellow slaves and to end the “hide out cast” of the oppressed and to consecrate the asylum for fugitives as legal as possible. Basically Wendell Phillip cement to the readers, that
  5. 5. “The narrative of life Frederick Douglass is the clear, vivid, worth, pure and an authentic story that precisely display all brutal slavery experience and the power all the power invested on slave masters to do whatever they are pleased to black slaves. The narrative of Life of Frederick Douglass clearly shows various ways to which slaves refused to be so misrepresented hence demanded clear presentation as what is seen in the narrative; we will pick few incidents to substantiate this scene as shown by Douglass. In page 49 we can find the conversation between Mr. Hugh Auld and Mrs. Sophia Auld over educating black slave, where Mrs. Auld had began already to teach Douglass A,B,C on his arrival at Baltimore. Mr. Auld forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct Douglass with the words “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it would do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discounted and unhappy.”What we learn from those words is that whites knew principally, the ways to keep slaves low and obedient to slavery as part of life , they hid knowledge as tool to blind slaves mentality to consciousness hence they managed slaves in this way. Douglass says in page 50 “I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both. There after we are exposed to various ways in which Douglass strived tediously to learn initially he learned how to read by using young white children, he read news papers in hiding, he took Thomas’s notes book, and with help of ship carpenters he mastered reading and writing. He later read Columbian orator and Sheridan’s mighty speeches, which gave him knowledge of denunciation of slavery and powerful vindication of human rights (page 53-57). From this incident we can see that Douglass as uttered by Mr. Auld became unmanageable, and unfit to be slave this is seen in (page 81) Douglass fight back Mr. Covey the most cruel white master who brute him long enough. In (page 82) Douglass himself utter these words “I was determined to be used no longer” The journey of Douglass ends when he even refuse to pay Mr. Hugh Auld who took money from him whenever he worked (page 107) Douglass says “He was satisfied with nothing less than the last cent”. Later he escaped though, by his own words he says “ on the third day of September,1838, I left my
  6. 6. chains and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind, How I did so, and by what mode of conveyance,-I must leave unexplained, for the reasons before mentioned.” We can also see the way slaves are separated from their families, which signifies the denial of their right of affection, in (page 22) Douglass says “My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant-before I knew her as my mother” The story continues that he saw her mother scarcely and later he heard Mr. Stewart who whipped her mother who later got sick and died, in all these incidences he is allowed to attend neither his mother’s sickness nor burial ceremony. Another incidence connected to separation is found in(page 35) here Douglass present the story of the slave who meets with his master(Colonel Lloyd), but he doesn’t recognize him hence he tells his master, after being asked that he was not treated well by him. The consequences the slave faces , is due to what is documented that he has found fault with his master, Douglass says “He was snatched away, and forever sundered , from his family and friends” Simply it costs slaves to speak truth as in (page 36) “This is the penalty of telling the truth, of telling the simple truth, in answer of the plain question”. In (page 110) Douglass tells us how it was painful to be separated by loved ones by expressing his personal feelings towards, his separations with his friends, he says “and the thought of being separated from them forever was painful beyond expression”. Another pertinent representation in Douglass’s narrative is religious practice where he clearly displays to major types of religions throughout his book; he is showing real/true religion and false/ bad religion. According to Douglass he, himself is practicing true religion that is against cruelty and barbarity unlike slave masters who claim to hold religion but their acts are against their claimed beliefs. In (page 24) Douglass says “It will do away the force of argument, that God cursed Ham, and therefore America slavery is right. If the lineal of Ham are alone to be scripturally enslaved; it is certain that slavery at south must soon become unscriptural…” in this quote we can see how Douglass condemn the religious belief of the white masters that to him is vague and senseless, he totally disagree with some of the story that whites pick in the bible to support their slavery institution, instead Douglass firmly contend to such nature of religion by declaring if blacks scripturally to be enslaved, then slavery should be made to an end unscriptural. In support of what we have been discussing above in (page 96) we can even see
  7. 7. how white masters swore to kill slaves if they did not abide to their orders, for the case of Henry who refuse to cross hands to be tied Douglass say “…and swore, by their creator, that they would make him cross his hands or kill him.” Also Douglass wonders while in Mr. Thomas’s house their mistress could give them very little to eat and though she knew people died of hunger she could not help though Douglass say in (page 66) “We poor creatures being nearly perishing with hunger, when food in abundance lay moldering in the safe and smoke-house, and our pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet that mistress and her husband would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basket and store.”Another important scene of irreligious action is that of Mr. Covey who was respected for his savage cruelty and training for slaves who were considered unmanageable alongside his barbarity personality we are informed with Douglass that “Mr. Covey, he was a professor of religion-a pious soul-a member and a class leader in the Methodist church.” (Page78). To cement on the point Douglass gives us the story of how he fought with number of white people in (page 101), but the point is in (page 102) when he managed to escape death he ran to Mr. Hugh Douglass says “…and I am happy to say of him, irreligious as he was, his conduct was heavenly, compared with that of his brother Thomas under similar circumstances” Douglass insist that good religion should encompass good conduct of fair and equality. In (page 48) Douglass speaks of Mrs. Sophia Auld “Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music.” This was what Douglass believed to be real/true religion. Another salient representation that Douglass expose us to is racism, throughout the text we can vividly discover slavery is operating under the umbrella of racial segregation white people have considered their color superior and overlooked on black colored people. Let us turn in (page 42) where we find one of the racial assaultive statements, Douglass says “It was a common saying, even among little white boys, that it was worth a half-cent to kill a “nigger” and a half- cent to burry one.” In the very beginning of the first chapter we are introduced to the nature of racial segregate system where Douglass himself wonders “The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege (page 21). We can also see how racial discrimination persisted in (page 96-97) there is a woman who curse Douglass color as being the cause of the problem to Henry and John, she said “You devil! You yellow devil! It was you that put it into the heads of Henry and John to run away. But for you, you
  8. 8. long-legged mulatto devil! Henry or John would never have thought of such a thing.” There were mind that most black colored were limited to thought as this woman declared in her assertion about Henry and John. In (page 101) there is the scene at the shipyard where Douglass conflict with white apprentices who refuses to work with black colored people, he fought with them and since they were many they overpowered him on his strive to escape a group of other fifty whites were screaming “ Kill the damned nigger!kill him! Kill him! He struck a white person.” This is how black color was diminished and trampled as if it was not God’s creation. Another significant representation in Douglass narrative is slave trade where we are informed how Black people were sold, their origin and how every year multitude of the black class was shipped to America in (page 24) Douglass says “…from those originally brought to this country from Africa;…” in this we can clearly understand that African-American were originally bought from African continent to America as slaves. In page 98 we can see after Douglass and his two friends Henry and John were in imprisoned Number of slave traders came to evaluate their value. Douglass says “We had been in jail scarcely twenty minutes, when a swarm of slave holders, and agents for slave traders, flocked into jail to look for us, and to ascertain if we were for sale.” In( page 23) told that the master could just sell one of the slave out of her wife’s feeling Douglass says “The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out of difference to the feeling of his white wife;…”. We are also introduced to the system that black slaves were owned just like other properties white masters possessed, throughout the text we can see how Douglass and his family members, and other blacks were the subject to their masters, they had no right to do against, or without their masters concert. Let us turn to (chapter 8 page 59-60) where there is incident of death of Mr. Anthony and his possession had to be distributed so Douglass and his family had to be returned back home for evaluation, Douglass says “we were all ranked together at the evaluation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same examination”. In( page 107) we Mr. Hugh the later owner of Douglass who was furious to know that he left home without informing him, Douglass says “He wished to know how dared to go out of the city without asking his permission”.
  9. 9. Another useful representation of Douglass’s narration is dehumanization and brutality nature of the slave holders, through the text we are exposed to series of cruelty nature of blood thirsty slave masters, how they manifested their denial of Blacks existence through their maltreatments to slaves, Douglass show us the character of many slave masters as most cruelty one, while African-American servile and enduring their fate. In chapter (1 page 22) we meet Mr. Stewart, who whipped Douglass’s mother as a penalty for not attending the field work, in (page 23) we are informed that Mr. Stewart could enjoy whipping and see black slaves whipped “… and the cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for a man to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers, it is often the dictate of humanity for him to do so, for, unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker complexion than himself, and ply the glory of lash to his naked back;..” . Also in (page 24) we are shown Mr. Plummer the overseer who is said to be “miserable drunkard, Profane swearer, and a savage monster.” He whipped Douglass’s aunt Hester frequently were he could enjoy blood running fast. Mr. Severe who use to walk with hickory stick and heavy cow skin ready to whip, it is said his presence made the place the “field of blood and of blasphemy”. In (page 34) we are presented to Colonel Lloyd who whipped the slaves who attended his horse just by the look of the horse, Douglass says “They were frequently whipped when least deserving, and escaped when most deserving it. Everything depended upon the looks of the horses, and the state of Colonel Lloyd when his horses were brought to him for use.”. Another master, Mr. Austin Gore popular as “grave man”, Douglass claim that he was artful, cruel, obdurate. It is informed that he could torture slightest look, word, or gesture, on the part of the slave. He once killed a slave by the name Demby with a gun blowing his brain, for what he claimed “Demby has become unmanageable. He was setting bad examples to the other slaves…”.In (page 41) we are introduced to Mrs. Hicks whose servant slept due to lack of sleep over past two days, on her sleep white child cried being asleep she did not hear, her mistress workup and picked the piece of wood hit her nose and broke her breast bones. Another slave master was Mr. Covey nicknamed “ the snake” (page73), he surprised his slaves be crawling in the farm to observe their dealings. In number of ways we have seen also how, these slaves were whipped to nakedness, but another important presentation is the way their labor were scarcely valued despite of their
  10. 10. hardworking, this is shown in (page 28) were we are shown that slaves were paid very little, and their provisions cost no more than seven dollars. I f their clothes were torn they had to walk necked to the other provision season, to children who were not working they were seen naked in the streets. We are then showed Douglass’s grandmother who served Mr. Anthony, but was later isolated to die alone during her old age because she was no of any use (page 61). We are also shown exploitation of black slaves in (page 107), Mr. Hugh exploits Douglass by taking every single penny he receives from the work “He was satisfied with nothing less than the last cent”. Lastly but not least Douglass clearly managed to show us how the government of America was the great support to slavery and they did not see all evils done to black slaves as sins or crimes. In (page 40) after Mr. Gore killed Demby for what he claimed he became unmanageable, we are informed his fame as overseer went broad, Douglass says “His horrid crime was not even submitted to judicial investigation.” Another incident is that of Mrs. Hicks who killed her servant by breaking her nose and her breast bones with the stick, for not attending her babby while she was asleep. Douglass says “I will not say that this most horrid murder produced no sensation in the community, it did produce sensation, but not enough to bring the murderess to punishment. There was a warrant issued for her arrest, but it was never served. Thus she escaped not only punishment, but even the pain of being arraigned before a court for her horrid crime.” The political system was in favor of white slave masters hence it took time for slaves to gain their rights and enslave themselves. In a matter of summing up we can clearly assert that Douglass succeeded to represent the experience of the slaves during the error of slavery, he traced their origin, their life and their encounter and their way to anti-slavery movements (abolitionist struggles). In (page 21) of chapter one there is a quote that has weight worth to liberation of slaves Douglass says “it was the wish of most masters to within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant.” Douglass in his words he asserts “I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be made inconsistence in slavery; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man.(page 103-104)” African-American needed education and rise their consciousness to know their rights and proper ways to claim for their deserved right as human beings. Speaking of the Fugitive laws Douglass says “I see and feel
  11. 11. assured that those open declarations are a positive evil to the slaves remaining, who are seeking to escape. They do nothing towards enlightening the slave, whilst they do much towards enlightening the master. They stimulate him to grater watchfulness, and enhance his power to capture his slave. Furthermore and mostly important Douglass discover the major weapon that slave masters use to keep them as slaves and he also realized that it is the path way to freedom that later helped him to escape slavery, Douglass says “I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty-to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the. REFERENCES FREDERICK DOUGLASS.(1949). NARRATIVE OF LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS.Published by Penguine the Group.New York James Oliver Horton & Lois E. Horto. (October, 1992). A Federal Assault: African Americans and the Impact of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 - Symposium on the Law of Slavery:Constitutional Law and Slavery.Article7, volume 68.Chicago-Law Review. Jeffrey Rogers Hummel and Barry R. Weingast. (January, 2006). The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850: Symbolic Gesture or Rational Guarantee? Nathan Hare,(1984). Essay.