Monday, February 20, 2012

February 20 - Frederick Douglass, Reformer, Abolitionist, Sage of Anacostia

Frederick was born in Maryland but it wasn't his state it was the state where his oppressors lived--Frederick had no place to call his own. Frederick knew who his mother was but he was stripped away from her while he was an infant as if he were only a commodity with no heart or mind to form connections. Frederick knew who his grandmother was because he was raised under he watchful eyes and kind tutelage but he was separated from her when he was only seven years old. Those who held him in slavery did not see any reason they should honor the bonds between he and his grandmother and so they had no problem taking him to another place to do a different job because their lives were and always had been focused on efficiency and profit. Frederick didn't know who his father was though it's very likely that he was the slave of his own father after being separated from his grandmother. Chances are, he was the son of a white overseer who had taken indecent liberties with a slave woman as was his presumed natural and God-given right. After that man died, Frederick was transferred to yet another family near Baltimore.

It was while he was serving the Auld family near Baltimore that he first encountered the written word as anything more than another way for those with power to maintain it. The slave master's wife taught twelve year old Frederick the fundamentals of reading and writing. Frederick took to it with his natural intelligence and was soon beginning to read and write on his own. But the slave master found out and insisted that this was inappropriate on the grounds that slaves who could read might question their lot in life and become dissatisfied with slavery. Hugh Auld knew well that education was a liberator and literacy was the gateway to education. What he didn't know what the already powerful dissatisfaction that brewed in the hearts of Frederick and his brothers and sisters. Auld put a stop to the lessons but the fire of knowledge burned bright and quick in Frederick's mind and he continued to teach himself to read even though he was warned not to. After honing his skills, the adolescent Frederick took to teaching reading to other slaves on Sundays. Given time by their oppressors to worship, they did so but Frederick was keen to teach them to read their New Testament. In it, they found stories of liberation and freedom. In these stories, they began to be freed from their many bonds--all except their most physical and real. Frederick was beaten for these lessons and suffered severe punishments but would not stop teaching or questioning the injustice of slavery upon religious grounds. He was turned over to a particularly cruel slave master for his persistence.

When he was twenty years old, Frederick finally escaped slavery on his third attempt. He boarded a train, he adopted a guise, and in twenty-four hours he was a man finally freed from his physical bonds. He became an ardent activist and abolitionist campaigning not only for the end of slavery but also the end of all injustice and oppression--he even ran to be the first African-American Vice President on an equal rights ticket with Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for President). He was quick to strike at the hypocrisy of the religious elite in their use of the scriptures that proclaimed liberation and life as tools of oppression and death and insisted that true religion was not a matter of control but of love and freedom. His work as an abolitionist hastened the end of slavery in the United States and testified to a Christian faith that found its root and power in a Lord who had been oppressed by the powerful.

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