The Classics Club Spin was such a fun idea! And I’m so glad this book was my #14. On the practical side, it was short enough to fit into my crazy March days annnnnnd it’s on my TBR list so two birds, one stone. Oh yeah!
You can’t come away from reading a piece like this without a greater desire to develop a more noble character, to be the kind of person who doesn’t give up or take ‘no’ for an answer, who reaches out for higher things, who knows that value isn’t determined by what other’s think of you. Fredrick Douglass, was and did all of these things. He is an American hero.
SPOILER ALERT: This post does contain spoilers!! You have been warned ;).
The story of Fredrick Douglass is one of heartache and injustice and triumph. It’ll make you mad and want to knock a few heads together. It’ll have you cheering when a young man refuses to be whipped by his inane master and fights back or when a group of slaves quietly learn to read on Sunday mornings. It will have you thanking God that we no longer live in a time where it’s lawful for one American to own another. It will have you wishing you could search out the evil men in every dark corner of this country and the world who are still making money from modern slavery.
I’m not going to spin out the history he shares in this autobiography – it’s a short enough read that you can learn of it yourself in no time at all – rather, I want to share a couple of the quotes that I found especially poignant and awful in their searing truth.
“From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”
“I have observed this in my experience of slavery, – that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man.”
“Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.”
But the part that got me the most was in the appendix when he talked about the “slaveholding religion of this land”. The whole time I was like “Preach it!” It angered me to read about perhaps as much as it did Douglass to live through it. This part, in my opinion, was THE best part of the book:
“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of ‘stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.’ I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”
BAM! And that’s not even the whole thing, he goes on and it was…moving to say the least. It’s like when the pastor says something that resonates with your entire being and you can’t help but say, “Well!” or “Have mercy!” or “Amen!” That’s me anyway ;).
I read this book on my Kindle but really want to get a hard copy for my bookshelf! It’s worth adding to the collection. And I’m going to add Douglass’s other books to my reading list!!
Y’all have a blessed day!