My Bondage and My Freedom
|My Bondage and My Freedom
Hardcover - USA - 1st edition.
My Bondage and My Freedom is the second autobiography of Frederick Douglass published in 1855. In it, Douglass recounts growing up as a slave, the hardships he was forced to endure, and his eventual escape into the North. This second biography goes into more detail than the first. The book has entered the public domain.
|Audiobook read by Duncan Brownlehe.
Wanting to learn more about the American institution of slavery, I decided to read this book.
- Douglass offers many detailed descriptions of what life is like for a slave. They are brutally heart-wrenching and very important to learn from:
- He describes how he was happy as a little boy, because, even though he had no possessions, he also had no responsibilities since white people didn't think black children were capable of anything important. He was also still ignorant to his horrifying future, so he wasn't yet living in a state of constant fear.
- When he was a child, he was afraid to play with a group of kids which he assumed were strangers, but his grandmother explained to him they're his brothers and sisters. But, because they were all separated as children, those familial words mean nothing to him.
- It was especially heartbreaking when his grandmother had to abandon him to stay at the plantation. No doubt she was devastated leaving him there, but taking a parent away from a child is the worst thing you can do to them.
- Douglass barely knew his mother because, as was common with slave owners, he was taken away from her as a toddler. On rare occurrences, she would risk a severe beating to walk 24 miles in the night to be able to briefly see him. Even when she was sick and dying, he still wasn't allowed to see her.
- Douglas points out the horrifying fact that a slave master could legally rape his slaves as often as he desires. And, if he impregnates her, he could, and often would, sell his own children to be slaves elsewhere so he wouldn't have to deal with fathering the his own child. This probably happened to Douglass. In fact, the master's wives would often demand they sell the mulatto children so they wouldn't have to constantly be reminded of their husband's infidelity. Also, even if the child looked white, even whiter than some "properly" white people, they would still be a slave even if any one of their ancestors is black going back five generations!
- He details how his beautiful aunt Esther was savagely beaten for the "crime" of wanting to marry her black sweetheart instead of letting her master continue rape her. It wasn't even a matter of being married, as slave owners frequently raped their married slaves, the master just didn't want her to be allowed to have sex with anyone except him.
- He points out that all the things slavery apologists point out as "evidence" for why slavery is good, like the fact that slaves are always singing, dancing, and claiming to be happy with their lot when asked, are all done out of self-preservation, not joy. The singing and dancing were often done to placate their masters, and, the slaves always claimed to be happy because, if their masters ever heard them grumble, they might sell away their families.
- He goes into detail how slave owners treat their dogs and horses far better than their human slaves.
- He talks about the various ways white people conspired to trick black people into breaking the law. Slave owners would starve their slaves until they stole food, so they could punish them for stealing. Slave finders would claim to help slaves escape, only to catch them and bring them back to their slave masters for the reward money.
- He explains how he initially thought his master becoming religious would result in better treatment for he and his fellow slaves, but it only made him more cruel and violent. Also, nearly all the preachers his master invited over couldn't care less about the slaves, and, when Douglass tried to start a church service foe his fellow slaves, it was broken up by those same pious men who threatened to murder him. One of the most religious men he writes about is the "slave breaker" to whom other slave masters send their disobedient slaves to have their spirits broken.
- Even on the rare occasion when slaves are given time off, like for Christmas, they're encouraged to squander their free time getting drunk rather than working extra for money or making themselves useful tools. The masters don't want them to realize how much they could accomplish if they were always free.
- He was trusted to look after and be companion to his master's white son. The two were friends until the white boy became old enough to understand that Douglass was not his friend, but his property, and began treating him as such.
- He point out how even freed slaves in the North were often kidnapped and taken to the deep South were they would be reintroduced into slavery with no chance of becoming free again.
- Even as a free man in the North he still couldn't get into many different establishments because of his skin color and constantly had to fight to be able to ride on trains or ships.
- Douglass wisely points out how the institution of slavery is also bad for slavers:
- It guarantees slavers will never be moral or just. As an example, he talks about when he was sold to a family in Baltimore. Initially, the wife of the master is kind to him and even treats him like a person. However, because being a slave owner requires a person to be evil (beatings, forced ignorance, etc.), but they slaver owners still want to think of themselves as being good people, it leads to extreme cognitive dissonance. They overcome this by concocting horrible justifications for why they should do terrible things to their slave: it's for their own good, black people are subhuman, etc.
- He points out how, when bosses realize they can replace their workers with slaves for a huge savings, it creates a massive unemployment problem.
- He points out how the North, lacking free labor from slaves, developed much more technology to save time and automate, while the South languished the stone age.
- He raises an important point that slaves should feel no moral dilemma when it comes to stealing from or even killing their masters as it is self-defense.
- He points out the laziest slave masters he knows are the ones most likely to accuse slaves of being lazy.
- The plans for first serious attempt at escape, sailing up-river, rather than go over land, and forging passes, was quite brilliant.
- Sadly, Douglass was inculcated into Christianity and viewed it as his savior. Although he explains multiple times how the most religious people he knew were also the most brutal slave owners who used their bible to justify all the evils they inflicted upon him. He views this as a misinterpretation of the religion rather than a failing of it, not realizing that any religion which can be so easily twisted to evil is flawed at its core.
- There is not, beneath the sky, an enemy to filial affection so destructive as slavery. It had made my brothers and sisters strangers to me; it converted the mother that bore me, into a myth; it shrouded my father in mystery, and left me without an intelligible beginning in the world.
- A man who will enslave his own blood, may not be safely relied on for magnanimity.
- The practice of separating children from their mother, and hiring the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting, except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and barbarity of the slave system. But it is in harmony with the grand aim of slavery, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce man to a level with the brute. It is a successful method of obliterating from the mind and heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution.
- Mr. Auld promptly forbade continuance of her instruction; telling her, in the first place, that the thing itself was unlawful; that it was also unsafe, and could only lead to mischief. To use his own words, further, he said, "if you give a n-gger an inch, he will take an ell;" "he should know nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it." "if you teach that n-gger—speaking of myself—how to read the bible, there will be no keeping him;" "it would forever unfit him for the duties of a slave;" and "as to himself, learning would do him no good, but probably, a great deal of harm—making him disconsolate and unhappy." "If you learn him now to read, he'll want to know how to write; and, this accomplished, he'll be running away with himself." Such was the tenor of Master Hugh's oracular exposition of the true philosophy of training a human chattel; and it must be confessed that he very clearly comprehended the nature and the requirements of the relation of master and slave.
- The morality of free society can have no application to slave society... Make a man a slave, and you rob him of of moral responsibility. Freedom of choice is the essence of all accountability.
- The slave was robbed by his master of all his earnings, above what was required for his bare physical necessities, and the white laboring man was robbed by the slave system, of the just results of his labor, because he was flung into competition with a class of laborers who worked without wages. The slaveholders blinded them to this competition by keeping alive their prejudice against the slaves as men—not against them as slaves.