Mission Driven Stories: Frederick Douglass

“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.” ~Frederick Douglass 

From his childhood, though burdened down by incredible oppression, this inner belief that he could someday, somehow overcome slavery was a light and hope that Douglass nurtured. The incredible circumstances which led to a chance opportunity to begin learning to read, and the perseverance and tenacity he demonstrated in becoming literate, are remarkable. With little more than his faith in God and his determination, Douglass conquered reading and it transformed his life. Empowered with this new skill, the world was now open to him and he saw the circumstances of slavery for what they really were. 

Once mentally liberated himself, he longed for his brothers and sisters in slavery to experience the same freedom. Compassion and deep love led him to teach his fellow slaves to read–whoever was willing to learn–and to lead them in worshipping the God he knew was aiding them.

Yet, although surrounded by loving friends, it eventually became clear to Douglass that he could no longer live the life of a slave. He must escape or die. 

Join Audrey this week as she shares the terrible hardships of Douglass’ young life and the triumphant heights he rose to–aiding in the freeing of other slaves, consulting with authors and a U.S. President, sacrificing everything to make the world a better place. His story truly teaches us that when we love God and seek truth, we can be lifted from any oppression, and truly set free.

Listener’s Guide:

Use the time stamps below to skip to any part of the podcast. 

1:36      Birth and Early Years
4:44     The Master – Colonel Edward Lloyd
7:59      The Overseer – Mr. Gore

9:27      Learning to Read
11:47    Self-education
15:50    Frederick Douglass and the Foundational Laws
19:12    The Columbian Orator
22:22    Breaking the Slave
26:37    A Moment of Resolve
36:52    Teaching Slaves to Read
38:25    Attempt at Freedom
43:00    A Miracle – Learning a Trade
46:49    Final Escape
50:00    New Bedford
52:21     Summary of the Rest of His Life

Quotes from this episode:

“I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.” ~Frederick Douglass

And here I saw what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions; it was the face of my new mistress, Sophia Auld. I wish I could describe the rapture that flashed through my soul as I beheld it. ” ~Frederick Douglass

“Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, ‘If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,’ said he, ‘if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.’ These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.” ~Frederick Douglass

“As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. Anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever.” ~Frederick Douglass

“Once you learn to read you will forever be free.” ~Frederick Douglass

“You are chained by your level of ignorance and set free by your level of truth. ~Audrey Rindlisbacher

“This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. ~Frederick Douglass

O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or get clear, I’ll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing. Only think of it; one hundred miles straight north, and I am free! Try it? Yes! God helping me, I will.” ~Frederick Douglass

“You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.” ~Frederick Douglass

“I felt as I never felt before. It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. ~Frederick Douglass

On teaching slaves to read – “They came because they wished to learn. Their minds had been starved by their cruel masters. They had been shut up in mental darkness. I taught them because it was the delight of my soul to be doing something that looked like bettering the condition of my race. I look back to those Sundays with an amount of pleasure not to be expressed. They were great days to my soul. The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed. We loved each other…I loved them with a love stronger than anything I have experienced since.” ~Frederick Douglass

“I have been frequently asked how I felt when I found myself in a free State. I have never been able to answer the question with any satisfaction to myself. It was a moment of the highest excitement I ever experienced.” ~Frederick Douglass

“I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a sloop with a load of oil. It was new, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. I was at work for myself and a newly-married wife. It was to me the starting point of a new existence.” ~Frederick Douglass

“Love came to me, and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color.” ~Helen Pitts

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