Finding Identity In The Pathway From Slavery To Literacy

1289 words - 5 pages

You have seen how a man was made a slave;
you shall see how a slave was made a man.”
-Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life (1845)
The most shameful practices of American history is the act of slavery from the whites to the African Americans. Many African Americans were born into slavery and forced to feel inferior towards their white masters. Actual human beings were treated like animals. The inhumane condition of slavery challenged African Americans to discover their individual true identity. The whites defined the slaves’ identity as nothing but servants to them. To the slaves, a symbol of hope was the chance to become literate —learning how to read and write. Frederick Douglass, an African American slave, believed that literacy was “the pathway from slavery to freedom” (945). Through literacy, slaves like Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass were able to define their identity.
Phillis Wheatley was a black slave born in Africa. She was taken to Boston in 1761 when he was eight years old and was purchased by a wealthy tailor who brought her to America. Wheatley was fortunate to learn how to read and write taught by her master Susannah (419). One of Wheatley’s poems “On Being Brought from Africa to America” describes her discovery of her identity in this world. In the first two lines of the poem “‘Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land, / Taught my benighted soul to understand (lines 1-2)” Wheatley expresses that moving out of Africa and being exposed to the religion of Christianity was a good thing for her. She feels that her “benighted,” or dark soul is now a lighter soul. In the next two lines “That there's a God, that there's a Savior too: / Once I redemption neither sought nor knew (lines 3-4).” Wheatley is pleased to know that there is someone who can save her from her sins in life. The lines “Some view our sable race with scornful eye, / "Their color is a diabolic dye (lines 5-6)."” explains how some people view the African race as evil, however she feels that the exposure to the religion of Christianity will redefine these views of evil. In the last two lines “Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain, / May be refined, and join the angelic train (lines 7-8).” Wheatley feels that the Africans will be “refined” and changed because of the introduction of Christianity. Wheatley believes that taken away from her homeland was a good thing for her identity to evolve. She feels that the person she is, is not the person she was born as. Despite of her African American race and woman gender, Wheatley succeeded in gaining recognition of her intelligence and literacy in her time. Because of her background, her writing seem too good to be true. The quality of her work was astounding to many of her readers. She had clearly discovered her identity as a respected female African American writer.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 at Maryland and was of mixed race, his mother an African American and father a white man (920)....

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