Frederick Douglass – From Slave to Abolitionist
Frederick Douglass – from Slave to Abolitionist is a film that narrates the role Douglass played in ending slavery and advocating for racial equality especially for the black people. The film narrates Douglass’s childhood encounter with slavery and that of his family and other black people. Further, it narrates how he ran way and become a champion fighting to end slavery. This essay will critically review the film (Little Dread). The film begins with positive note, describing how black people who have been slaves all their lives will eventually have their freedom. The theme song words describe a following, a movement towards the acquisition of freedom. When the civil war between the North and the South begun Douglas is a child. He is a hopeful child who thinks of the war as the only path to redemption from slavery.
John Marszalek, a professor of history at Mississippi University, says that Douglas is a major figure in the coming and the way the civil war is fought. He adds that Douglas represents the conscience of the nation since he keeps in mind that the war will also end slavery and bring equality to the Black people integrating them into the American society. Thomas Battle of Howard University describes Douglass as a symbol of strength, from his hair, which looked like a lion’s mane. James McPherson of Princeton University, says that when Douglass spoke he had oratory power, he had a very deep-bear tone voice. William Gwaltney, says that Douglas was a tall man with broad shoulders and great physical strength who despite being a slave kept himself clean. According to Blight, author of Fredrick Douglas’ civil war Douglass is a symbol of the best and worst in the American abolition history; this is because he was a slave born from a mother who was a slave. He was the best since he is the epitome for the end of slavery. Douglas had the ability to capture in words the meaning of America (Little Dread).
In the film, Douglas says that he has no knowledge of his actual age since he has never seen his birth certificate. He says this is because the masters made sure that their slaves remained ignorant. None of the slaves he ever met could tell of their birthday. Fredrick was born in Talbot County on the Eastern shores of Maryland. Edna Green, a historian at Howard University, explains that Douglas was not certain of when he was born and at some point, he thought that he was born in 1870. However, the slave records showed that he was born to slave mother in 1818. His relationship with his mother was a distant one since she lived on another plantation (Little Dread). Douglas never knew who his father was. However, he had the intuition that his master, a white man was probably his father. His master’s name was Aaron Antony, who lived in large white house that stood at the entrance of the plantation, a group of farms owned by Colonel Edward Lloyd. His grandmother at the far end of the plantation played child mud games raised Douglas. At the age of six, his childhood ended and was assigned to be the companion and caretaker of the child mother in the plantation. Occasionally he would get into trouble for failure to do tasks assigned to him; it is the experience that made Douglas conceded that he was a slave. Slavery was founded on the idea that black people were inferior and, therefore, were supposed to do the dirty work while white people were superior and could only do the important things. In other words, slavery guaranteed one human being the absolute right of control over the other they could be sold like goods in the market. The slaves had no control over their lives, for instance, they could not control where they went, who to work for, who to interact with, and what they ate. When Fredrick arrived at the Lloyd plantation, he witnessed his aunt being brutally beaten by Aaron Antony Fredrick’s owner. The aunt was beaten because she allegedly had disobeyed him. The aunt was tied on a hook on a wall, and she had to stand on her toes, she was naked on the top part of her body and started to bleed from her back. The incident was traumatizing for Douglas. As people of color, they were aware that they were free people and still most of them choose to remain slaves like Douglas’s family. The slaves longed for freedom. Douglass says that he has heard the notion that the singing of slaves was a sign of content and happiness. He disputes this fact and says that songs of slaves represent their sorrow of their heart. As he says, the theme song sings on, ‘follow the dreams of your heart’ (Little Dread).
Fredrick Douglass discovered his pathway to freedom and liberty after moving to the plantation of Hugh Hold. Douglass knew the only way he would attain his freedom, and that of others was for him to learn how to read and write. This was amazing since slaves were not allowed to read and write. Douglass learned to read from his mistress who treated him like an adopted child. William McFeely, the author of Fredrick Douglass, says that the mistress herself was having trouble to read and the little she knew she taught it to Douglass. The mistress first taught Douglass how to read the Bible. Douglas was very clever he tricked his white childhood friends to share their homework with him. As Douglas learned he appreciated that, the pathway from slavery to freedom was to educate himself (Little Dread).
When he was fifteen years, Douglass was moved to another plantation as a laborer. From the plantation, he was able to view the city of Baltimore. He decided to leave for Baltimore where he was hired as a ships cocker. Fredrick was no longer a rural slave but an urban slave who was paid for his work. With the zeal to learn Douglass saved his pay and bought his first book the Columbian Orator that was a collection of famous speeches. Douglass memorized the book, reading the speeches repeatedly practice the tonal voice and how to give a speech. Life in Baltimore is very different he finds more people who are like him, fighting against slavery, he obtains, social identity. Douglass finds love by courting Ana-Marie, who was supportive of Douglass interests.
Slaves to obtain their freedom used several mechanisms. For instance in the film we learn that Henry Brown mailed himself in a box to Philadelphia. Others became a passenger on the famous Underground Railroad, which is not a road from its literal meaning but a series of houses and tunnels in strategic distances from the slave plantation where runaway slaves hid. In 1838, Douglas together with Ana-Marie device a plan to escape to the north. He goes by plane from Baltimore to Wilmington Delaware and later goes to Philadelphia via a steamboat, in Philadelphia Douglass is in a free state (Barnes 1). From Philadelphia, he moves to New York where Ana-Marie where they were married and traveled to Bedford, Massachusetts joins him. In Bedford, he tries to find work to fend for hi young family, and he works at a shipyard. However, Douglass still experiences racism at his place of work; white laborers do not want to work together with black people. He is employed as a common laborer since those are the jobs reserved for black people. Douglass was still concerned about his freedom and his intent to end slavery. He was at risk since he was a fugitive slave, and if caught he would be returned to his master (Little Dread).
He learned of the abolition movement led by Lord Garrison that was fighting to eradicate slavery and equality for black people. Douglass gets interested in the abolition movement and the Liberator Newspaper published by William Garrison. Douglass constantly reads the Liberator; he says that it was his meat and drink. The Paper set his soul on fire; he chose to attend the anti-slavery convention organized by Garrison. As Garrison spoke, Douglass was holding on every word, and Garrison learned that fugitive slave is in the crowd. Garrison invites Douglass to speak and share his story. He talks of how he despises slavery and that the masters justify their actions with quotations from the Bible (Barnes 1). Douglass continues to give more anti-slavery talks each time mesmerizing the crowd with his oratory skills. Garrison approaches that Douglass would be of help in the anti-slavery campaign; he recruits Douglass to the movement. Though attacked by most of his conventions, Douglass got even more interested and published his first autobiography titled, Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass. In the autobiography, he gives more information about his experience as a slave. With information on his whereabouts, afraid that his master will take him he goes to England for two years (Little Dread).
He returns to the US in 1847 and begins to publish the Newspaper the North Star a symbol for his road to freedom. In 1852, he was invited to Rochester to address the Independence Day celebration. Douglas was of the view that this was not the end yet, and they should not celebrate. He says that he was mourning since slavery was still in existence. Douglass changed the North Star’s name to Fredrick Douglass’ Paper. He met John Brown, who dedicated his life to fighting slavery. Brown was of the view that violence could only defeat slavery, a message Douglass appreciated. Brown and Douglass became close friends. Brown planned to attack a ferry, and invites Douglass to join Douglass, however, does not. Brown and his friends are altering caught and hanged. Douglas then saw violence as the only solution to ending slavery as initiated by Brown (Barnes 1).
The civil war then was begun, and Douglass knew that this was the opportunity to end slavery since the war had been caused by slavery. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln the President declared the end of slavery and that African Americans would be involved in the federal government agencies. In 1864, Douglass declared liberty for everyone. He was appointed a marshal for the District of Columbia and later he was made a minister, a representative of Haiti. Fredrick Douglass died in 1895 as an accomplished man; slavery was over, and equality for African American was attained (Little Dread).
The film, Frederick Douglass – from Slave to Abolitionist illustrate the journey of freedom of the African American people. The film tells the story of Fredrick Douglass a man born into a slave family who overcame all odds to become the savior. He used his experience, for instance when he witnessed his Aunt Esther being punished by his master Aaron, Douglass knew he needed to do something. He discovered that the only way to end slavery was to educate himself. He learned to read and even bought his first book and memorized all the speeches in preparation for the anti-slavery revolution. Douglas was determined to end slavery and got the support he needed from his wife, Ana-Marie. With the assistance of the Abolition movement Douglass became a household name recognized all over the country for his effort to end slavery. Even after President Abraham Lincoln had declared the end of slavery, Douglass was still at the forefront fighting for equal rights for African American people. The film is a lesson to all of us to be persistent in our endeavors. For instance, being a slave did not deter Douglass from achieving freedom. It is therefore upon us to fight and appreciate the need to fight for our needs. Let us use our bad experiences to achieve a greater good.
Barnes, Diane. “Frederick Douglass: From Slavery to Freedom and Beyond.” Oxford African American Studies Centre, Youngstown State University. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Little Dread. “Frederick Douglass – From Slave to Abolitionist.” Online Video Clip. You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj-gz3u-1jM . Web. Retrieved on 26th October, 2015.