Book Review: My Bondage And My Freedom

April 9, 2013

“… this battle with Mr. Covey—undignified as it was, and as I fear my narration of it is—was the turning point in my “life as a slave.” It rekindled in my breast the smouldering embers of liberty; it brought up my Baltimore dreams, and revived a sense of my own manhood. I was a changed being after that fight. I was nothing before; I WAS A MAN NOW. It recalled to life my crushed self-respect and my self-confidence, and inspired me with a renewed determination to be A FREEMAN. A man, without force, is without the essential dignity of humanity. Human nature is so constituted, that it cannot honor a helpless man, although it can pity him; and even this it cannot do long, if the signs of power do not arise.”

“Covey was a tyrant, and a cowardly one, withal. After resisting him, I felt as I had never felt before. It was a resurrection from the dark and pestiferous tomb of slavery, to the heaven of comparative freedom. I was no longer a servile coward, trembling under the frown of a brother worm of the dust, but, my long-cowed spirit was roused to an attitude of manly independence. I had reached the point, at which I was not afraid to die. This spirit made me a freeman in fact, while I remained a slave in form. When a slave cannot be flogged he is more than half free. He has a domain as broad as his own manly heart to defend, and he is really “a power on earth.” While slaves prefer their lives, with flogging, to instant death, they will always find Christians enough, like unto Covey, to accommodate that preference”

It took me way to long to finish this book, but once I actually got focused on reading it this was a fast read. I was not very excited about reading this book, honestly, but my interest was piqued by the use of part of the above quotes in The 50th Law. Douglas’ story of being born and living as a slave and then his life as a free man serve as the two parts of this book; Douglas’ actual escape from slavery is omitted in details because, as Frederick states, sharing just a piece of how and when and where he escaped would make it that much harder for all the remaining slaves he left behind. And I had to respect that.

The free man part of Dougas’ story was OK, but not very interesting to me really. A lot of his speeches were shared, and his story of living in England for a few years, which I never knew about, take up about 20% of the book. Douglas’ early free man life was interesting for just hearing about how he his challenge to adjust to being completely free while still afraid of being re-captured and re-sold into in the deep south (which I didn’t even know was possible in the North).

The story of Douglas’ slave life, however, is the highlight of this book. The raw reality of it all is surreal. Being a human being that is seen as property, not allowed to be taught to read and write, a slave owner having almost complete free reign to do whatever he wishes to you for whatever reason or no reason at all, and the cold realization that so many Blacks lived their entire lives as property on a plantation — and the fact that the author was facing this fate also if he did not find a way out.

Frederick Douglas’ autobiography (this book, that is) is open to be copied, reproduced and is completely free via the iBooks store for anyone wishing to read it.

my bondage and my freedom frederick douglass dreallday.com

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