Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Learning from History

I love teaching Philip history.  I have a much better appreciation for it now than I did when I was growing up.  There are so many life lessons to be learned in history as well as people to admire for their character, accomplishments, and place in history.  

One such man was Frederick Douglass, the subject of our lesson today.  Douglass was an African-American born into slavery around 1818.  As a baby he was separated from his mother and worked on a plantation.  When he was around 11 or 12 he was sent to serve in the house of Hugh Auld in Baltimore.  Auld's wife Sophia started teaching Douglass to read at age 12.  Douglass fondly described her as kind-hearted and treating him the way humans ought to treat one another.  However, when Mr. Auld found out about it, he quickly put an end to it, knowing that education would ignite the embers of discontent and flame the desire for freedom.  Despite this, Douglass continued to teach himself to read secretly by reading discarded newspapers and observing the writings of the people he worked with.  Douglass is quoted as saying "knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom."  

When Douglass was a teen he was returned to the plantation where he taught the other slaves to read the New Testament in Sunday school.  Eventually he was found out and was sent to work for a farmer with the reputation of being a "slave-breaker."  Douglass was regularly whipped and beaten.  Finally in 1838, Douglass was able to escape by boarding a train, disguised as a sailor.  

Douglass settled and married in Massachusetts.  There he met William Lloyd Garrison, a white abolitionist with whom he would work closely with, writing anti-slavery publications and giving lectures.  Douglass was a gifted orator who moved audiences with his personal account of slavery.  Douglass wrote his autobiography which became a best seller and furthered sympathy for the abolitionist movement.  However, skeptics doubted such eloquent literature could be produced by man of a supposedly lesser race.

Douglass championed equal rights for all.  He actively supported women's suffrage.  He said, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."  Douglass strongly believed education was the key for African Americans to improve their lives.  He was an early advocate for desegregating schools.  During the Civil War, President Lincoln regularly conferred with Douglass  regarding the treatment of black soldiers and the emancipation of slaves in all the nation.  

I go through this history of Frederick Douglass' life and work because I see so many parallels between his life and my son's.  I see parallels in the Abolitionist and Civil Rights Movements of the past and the Disability Rights Movement of today.  I am touched at how a caring woman who treated young Frederick Douglass with kindness and respect, even though she was the wife of a slaveholder, made such a difference in his life and affected the freedom of countless others.  I'm amazed at Douglass' resiliency that despite countless beatings, he would not stop from securing freedom not only for himself, but for others too.  I'm impressed he told his story again and again despite skeptics saying a black man could not be intelligent.  He could not be denied his own story and because he was an insider, it was the most powerful.  Douglass partnered with people who did what was right and stayed away from those who did wrong.  He would not ally himself with radical abolitionists who espoused violence to justify its goals.  Douglass understood the importance of education and inclusion in helping all people be most successful in their lives.  

After learning about Frederick Douglass, Philip composed this essay.

Frederick Douglass

I can relate to Frederick Douglass except I am autistic not a slave. I tried talking but it did not work and I was mute.  I appreciate talking so much.  Frederick Douglass was active in fighting for freedom of slaves.  He wrote his autobiography and he attracted rallies for antislavery and support of abolitionism.  He attracted statesmen to join his cause.  As a liaison to the president every African American was represented.  He helped other slaves obtain freedom liberally.  I ask for the same freedom for my autistic friends.  I will fight for them.

 Philip's essay written on the iPad

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting because we, too, have found parallels in the same places. In September we read a book called My Name is Phillis Wheatley about a woman slave who became the first black woman poet to be published. It really resonated with us, this story of a woman who could achieve so much despite the fact that she was believed to be so inferior.