Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

I recently learned about the speech that Douglass delivered on the Fourth of July, 1852.  This great orator, a former slave, narrativepraised the founding fathers – and then talked about the denial of American freedoms to the slaves.  After reading the speech online, I looked for books about Douglass’ life and discovered this autobiography.

It gives a chilling view of slavery as Douglass experienced it.  When he was a tiny child, his master sent his mother to another plantation, leaving Frederick to the care of women too old to work in the fields.  He only saw his mother a few times, always in the dark of night, when she could slip away to see him and then rush back to be in the fields by daybreak.  Although Frederick heard rumors that his master was his father, he never knew if this was true.  He was almost always hungry.  In the cold Maryland winters, he had no clothing but a long shirt and only a cloth sack to provide a bit of warmth as he slept on the ground.

Fortunately, he learned to read, although it was illegal to teach a slave in that time and place.  Eventually, he escaped, went to New England, and became a key figure in the abolitionist movement.

The book, a short, quick read, offers a first-hand view of slavery by a highly intelligent and literate former slave.  Douglass’ story, as told in this book, ends soon after his escape from slavery.  Published in 1845, it became an instant bestseller.

He wrote two later autobiographical works: My Bondage and My Freedom  (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881 – revised in 1892).  The library also owns Escape from Slavery, a book for children, told through excerpts from Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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