Author Background

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. He lived in Talbot, Maryland with his grandmother. At a young age, Frederick was sent to live in the home of the plantation owners. Eventually, Douglass was sent to the Baltimore home of Hugh Auld. During his time at the Auld home, the wife, Sophia, disobeyed the ban against teaching slaves to read and write and began teaching Douglass. This is where Douglass' opposition to slavery began.

Learning to Read and Write

Frederick Douglass' excerpt Learning to Read and Write, came from his best-known autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The piece was written in 1845, which was during the time of slavery. Frederick Douglass was an abolitionist, who published this piece as a runaway slave. Publishing this story was a risky, but bold move by Douglass as it would help gain support for the abolitionists. The perspective of the piece, which is the perspective of Frederick Douglass himself as a slave, forces the readers to connect with his emotions and actions in order to better understand his point. Douglass faced great adversity during his time as a slave. Slaves were not permitted the opportunity to learn how to read and write, but Frederick was determined to become literate. The wife of the home in which Fredrick lived, sought to teach him in private, against her husband's desires. Eventually, slavery took its toll on the wife and she became stone-hearted and susceptible to the dictates of her husband. Douglass was forced to take his education into his own hands by making friends with all of the little white boys around, reading everything he could get his hands on, and feed the hungry in return for knowledge. The dedication and passion for literacy that Frederick Douglass entailed is what allowed him to be successful in obtaining an education.

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