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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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What lessons do you think Frederick Douglass wanted other slaves, as well as whites, to learn from his autobiography?

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Frederick Douglass was the most famous abolitionist of his time. He was admired throughout the north and Europe at the same time he was vilified in the south. His autobiography, first published in 1845, helped banish many stereotypes about slaves and slavery that white Americans held.

One of the most important aspects of his autobiography was how it dispelled myths about the “civil” nature of slavery. Many slave owners in the south claimed in wasn’t as bad as abolitionist claimed because slave masters provided for their slaves. Douglass illustrated all the cruelty, violence, and dishonesty he experienced so that abolitionists and sympathetic northern knew the truth.

Douglass also hoped to dispel rumors about the intelligence or capability of slaves. Many people, both northern and southern, felt that African Americans weren’t as smart or capable as whites and therefore couldn’t handle freedom. Reading Douglass’s words and his intelligent writing style convinced many whites that slaves could become free and contributing members of society. It also gave slaves hope that one day, they too could reach his level of success.      

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