Author: Frederick Douglass
First Published: 1845
Genres: Autobiography, Classics
Source: Free Promotion, Public Domain
Frederick Douglass’s celebrated memoir is among the most influential works of the nineteenth-century abolitionist movement in the United States. Beginning with his birth on a Maryland plantation in 1818, Douglass’s account records the tyranny and brutality of his life in slavery until his ultimate escape to New Bedford, Massachusetts, at the age of twenty.
Published in 1845—just seven years after his escape—Douglass’s narrative sold five thousand copies in its first four months in print. His story’s impact—then and now—makes Douglass a key figure in the fight for African American freedom and equality in the United States.
What blows my mind about this book is how incredibly readable and accessible it is, considering the fact that it was written over a century ago. Frederick Douglass was a fugitive slave and a prominent leader of the abolitionist movement. While in captivity, Douglass worked hard to teach himself how to read and write, viewing literacy and education as his means to freedom.
“Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will… Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get.”
The narrative discusses Douglass’s experiences as both a plantation slave and a personal family slave in the city, working skilled labor and paying his wages to his master. I never knew how drastically different the conditions were from plantation to city, and the book provides a lot of detail that is often lost in a general history of American slavery.
The appendix also contained an incredibly powerful criticism of how pervasive religion was among the Southern slaveholding populace, calling out slave owners on their hypocrisy. Everything about this narrative was just incredible, and it is a wonderful historical piece to study.
Frederick Douglass truly lives up to his reputation for having a gift for storytelling and his writing is powerful, I wish I could’ve heard him speak. He is one of the most admirable historical figures I’ve encountered and I regret not reading this book sooner. If there was one memoir I could ever recommend to anyone on the subject of slavery, it would be this one.
Warnings: violence, racism