This We also learn of his trips

This lesson discusses Frederick Douglass and his second autobiography, ”My Bondage and My Freedom.” It also tackles some of the challenges Douglass faced and discussed in his book.

Who Was Frederick Douglass?

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass would escape and gain his freedom by his 20th birthday. But rather than be content with his own liberty, he worked to gain attention for the cause of abolition, or the end of slavery. He was particularly gifted in his use of both the written and spoken word, making many doubt that he was ever a slave. With his first book in 1845, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass gained a large audience for his message on the cruelty of slavery.

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The Abolitionist’s Tale

While Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is much more well known, My Bondage and My Freedom answered many of the burning questions leftover from the first book.

Published in 1855, a decade after Narrative, it expanded on many of the most intriguing points of the first book. Remember, both were autobiographies, but as Douglass wrote in his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, there was only so much information that he could reveal at a given time in hopes of not preventing escape by other runaway slaves.Much of the earliest part of My Bondage and My Freedom focuses heavily on Douglass’s early life. He writes about the differences in treatment between being a field slave and being a slave for a ship captain, saying that he was treated as an animal by the plantation owner but as a (hated) child by the captain. Meanwhile, he displays his humanity through an ongoing love for his future wife, Anna Murphy, a free black woman.As in Narrative, it is clear in Bondage that Anna’s freedom inspires Douglass to seek his own so that he can spend his life with her.

His first attempt, in 1837, fails and lands him locked in a jail. The next year he arrives in New York City and compares the amount of life lived in one day free in New York to a whole year in servitude. Immediately, he sends for Anna and they are married. Eventually the two move to New Bedford, Massachusetts, a hotbed of abolitionist activity in the North, and begin to work to denounce the practice of slavery.

While the majority of the book does deal with Douglass’s time as a slave and his attempts to escape, we do learn about his first involvement in abolitionist movements. Ten years removed from Narrative, he says that he wanted to prove to the outsider that the cruelties of slavery are there and that the system is unjust. We also learn of his trips to Europe and that friends have agreed to purchase his freedom from his previous owner so that he should have no fear of being even more high profile.

Breaking It Down

Douglass’s claims in Narrative were viewed as almost sensational at the time, with many believing them to be impossible.

As a result, he devoted the majority of his next autobiography to providing even more information to make readers aware of the evils of slavery. All the while, he was mindful of the fact that if he were to truly give the readers all that they wanted, he could close the door for other slaves to escape. He was forced to walk a tightrope of keeping the reader intrigued with new information while not endangering those who wish to repeat his feat. Luckily, he did so masterfully, if not a little too perfectly. Some argued that he had never been a slave, but such detractors did little to unsteady Douglass from his argument for abolition.

Lesson Summary

My Bondage and My Freedom was the second of three autobiographies that Frederick Douglass would eventually publish. Meant to further inform readers captivated by the stories of cruelty and survival that filled the pages of Douglass’s first autobiography, the book raises the cries against slavery from a building action to a crescendo.

While his first book may have grabbed the attention of the public, My Bondage and My Freedom grabbed their hearts and demanded action.

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