The most interesting thing to me in the story of Frederick Douglass is how food was the main motivator for him as he moved from one owner to another. In Chapter 9, Douglass allows his owner’s horse to run away multiple times, so he could go after the horse and get a full meal at the neighbor’s farm. Because of this, he is rented out to another farmer for a year. Even though he knew that his new owner had a reputation for being violent with his slaves, Douglass was happy to go because he knew that he would be well-fed.

This is a very interesting dilemma to me and displays the power of food over a person’s mind. Essentially, Douglass is willing to open himself up to abuse and more strenuous labor in return for receiving satisfying portions of food. I would argue that Douglass accepted a bad trade-off in response the temporal power that food had over his mind. Obviously, this is a lose-lose scenario for Douglass that eventually led to him deciding to escape, but his acceptance of his fate in being transferred to a new owner led to more serious long-term issues, such as the violent encounters he had with his new owner.

I noticed throughout the piece by Frederick Douglass’ that there was a huge emphasis placed on Douglass’ quest to become literate.  It is stated on page 1196 that teaching a slave (Frederick Douglass) to become literate “would forever unfit him to become a slave”.  Without doing too much analysis of this passage, there are a few key extrapolations to be made.  Literacy would prevent one from being a slave because it gives them a sense of individuality.  The ability to read and write is the ability to learn and question; the ability to deny word-of-mouth and gain a sense of self-efficacy.  These are things we, today, take for granted.

I ran into this article/ESPN news segment and couldn’t help but feel sorry since the literacy I have enjoyed oftentimes goes unappreciated.  This article cites a study done by Mary Willingham, a previous professor at the University of North Carolina.  Her study finds that 10% of UNC football players and basketball players read and write below the third-grade level.  Even worse, in my opinion, Willingham’s research also found that 60% read and write at a fourth to eighth grade level.  It seems unbelievable that a prestigious university such as UNC could have 70% of their football and basketball players reading and writing at below an eighth grade level.  In order to have these students graduate with a degree, the university instituted “paper classes” where, essentially, there was no attendance and class completion was based on a semester-end paper which leaves room for academic abuse.  The article even cites that one professor was indicted on charges since he was paid $12,000 to teach a no-show “independent study” class over the summer.  All of the students in the class were also players, or former players, for the UNC football team.  The university has, obviously, denied the study but has also “implemented numerous reforms, even having officials spot check classes to ensure they are actually meeting”.  This action is essentially an admittance of guilt.

Reading the chapters on Frederick Douglass and also some excerpts from “Literacy and Individual Consciousness” by F. Niyi Akinnaso has given me a greater appreciation for the literacy I enjoy.  The attached article on North Carolina’s athletic literacy was extremely eye opening for me and I hope that corrections are made nationally to ensure all students are provided the basic skills they need to be successful later in life as well, as the skills that help create a feeling of self-assuredness and self-efficacy.

In reading about Fredrick Douglass and what I would consider his enlightenment that takes place in chapters 5-10. Starting out on a plantation, Fredrick Douglass knew the harshness of being a slave from a young age, but with a transfer to a new master in Baltimore his life changed in a profound way that started him on the path to literacy and freedom. Until his transfer to Baltimore there was no reason for him to ever consider the possibility of freedom or even decent living conditions, but after the initial instruction of his new Mistress, Mrs. Auld, he did what Mr. Auld warned he would and took the ell.

We see in chapter 5 an example of what could be considered plantation slave life. Bad and little food, no clothes or proper shelter, and poor treatment. But starting from page 1194 when Douglass gets the news that he will be moved to Baltimore, we see a positive outlook that he will carry with him, ” I left it with joy. I shall never forget the ecstasy with which i received the intelligence that my old master had determined to let me go to Baltimore…”

Once in Baltimore his enlightenment begins. Not only is he treated better and given proper food and clothing, but we see that his mistress begins to teach him to read. This is abruptly ended by his master, however, damage had been done and we see a profound change in the attitude of Douglass. “From that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.” This is a profound moment where Douglass understands that not only is the pathway to his freedom to gain literacy, but that the white man’s power to enslave the black man comes from this lack of literacy. It is a powerful idea and thanks to his mistress for teaching him, but also (ironically) his master for putting the idea in his head, Douglass is able to think for himself and set out on his own to pursue his literacy.

From here on Douglass goes about learning on his own. No longer having the instruction from his mistress he must teach himself and get a much help as possible from kids he meets. What is really interesting about his experiences so far is the power of an idea. As his master suggested, keeping literacy from slaves keeps them in slavery. Once Douglass got a taste of what was possible, he was able to understand that idea and his whole life changed. No longer was he satisfied with better conditions, but he thirsted for the knowledge that would eventually be able to lead him to his freedom.

When reading the narrative on Franklin Douglas, there was an emphasis placed on Douglas learning how to read and write from his mistress. She taught him to read and write for a while, and then stopped, and actually tried to discourage him from reading any books in fear of him learning too much it seems. At this point Douglas continues to try to learn how to read and write by selling bread from his portion, to people in exchange for them teaching him how to read and write.

Why was being literate so important to Douglas? Why was Douglas being literate becoming such fear for his mistress and other slave owners? The key lies in the influence of literacy in the future success of a person. Countless resources state the importance of literacy for success, and more current sources still encourage a focus on literacy in college. The article, Reading May Be the Key to Unlocking Basic Skills Success (, highlights the need to require a base level of literacy required in order to graduate from college, and also promotes the incorporation of appropriate level reading for college. The article stresses that the more recent decline in the level of literacy is important to correct.

This has to be why the slave owners thought it so important to prevent their slaves from learning to read, and why Douglas’s mistress soon became concerned that she maybe taught him too much. Like Douglas says in his narrative, once he got an inch, he wanted to take the whole ell.


Reading May Be the Key to Unlocking Basic Skills Success

After reading Frederick Douglass’ autobiography I became interested in his quest for knowledge, specifically how he learned to read and write. I wondered how unique his story was among the American population – what sort of literacy rates actually existed in the enslaved American population at that time? Were there any interesting anomalies that could be uncovered by looking at that data? Perhaps the information could give a more solid context as to how lucky (or, as he laments in his autobiography, unlucky) Douglass was in gaining his literacy.

I came across a white paper by Bruce Sacerdote, an economics professor at Dartmouth College: This document contains a treasure trove of data regarding the American population by pulling from sources such as the Census and IPUMS (a separate population database). A lot of this data covers the time period in which Frederick Douglass lived (1818-1895) and provides a great context on how slavery conditions evolved over those years.

One intriguing chart on page 54 shows how the literacy rates of people born in America changed over time. Interestingly, it appears as though blacks born outside the South were not incredibly far behind whites born in the South for this time period, being between 50-80% as opposed to the whites’ 75-85%. However, in the early 19th century, blacks born in the South have a less than 20% literacy rate – paling in comparison. Around the time Douglass spent his years learning to read and write in the Northeast, he would have been among a relatively high point in black literacy born outside the South. However, it is important to note that this only takes into account people actually born during these times and is not restricted to only slaves, so Douglass’ particular situation may indeed be quite unique.

Another interesting feature of this graph is the sudden and subsequently steady rise in literacy rates, starting around 1845-1865. It could possibly be explained by the division of America over the issue of slavery and eventual start of the Civil War in 1861, compounded with the change in data source as noted in the paper.

There is a long line of history with food of how it is prepared and produced and through time it changes and evolves. Thinking back on the Frederick Douglass book on how he had traded bread for education as a slave made me wonder how our society has changed through food with slaves. There were some articles about “soul food” being the food from African Americans but that food is also defined as American food that everyone eats because it has become a normal custom to most southern states. It makes me question as to how some foods we eat become an “American” type of food since we all have plenty of generations where our ancestors have made food. Through those generations of ancestors we have changed how we eat and what we eat by different cultures influencing our society. This article has explained in one aspect on how African culture has developed to become an American food which brings up the question if all of the food we eat and see each day derived from our ancestry from all around the globe or if there are some exceptions in the mix.

How Slaves Shaped American Cooking :

A Brief history of “Soul Food” :

After reading both the Frederick Douglass and Mary Prince narratives, and considering food, I have two main thoughts.

In both readings, the authors talk about being fed corn. I immediately compared this to farmers feeding cows corn, especially when Prince describes feeling like an animal being examined for worth before she was purchased. This really highlights how slaves were not seen as humans and more like cattle that need to be collected, directed, and controlled.

The article I am contributing helps to outline my next thought. In Feeding the Slaves, the writer shares three dishes – black-eyed peas, sweet potatos, and grits – and their historical significance in slave diets.

Being a person that descended from American slaves (among other groups), my family’s food culture has greatly been affected by how slaves prepared their food. I eat all three of the discussed dishes VERY often. There are baked sweet potatoes sitting on my stove right now.

While most of my home cooked meals consist of traditionally southern dishes, I believe that others are not as commonly eaten. I remember asking my mom why she liked eating chitterlings (pig intestines). Personally, the preparation of chitterlings smells so bad that I will not eat them but other people in my family will. She told me that she ate them growing up and explained how our ancestors ate them because they were not a part of a pig that masters (nor their families) would eat. Other parts of the pig that I and my family have eaten are pig ears (boiled), pig feet (baked or boiled), and pig tails (boiled).

I thought Douglass’ autobiography was very moving. His recollections on his life are both mature and sad. One account that I keep thinking back on was during his time with Mr. Covey, a slaveholder reputable for “breaking in” slaves to do what the white master says to do. His first six months there, says Douglass, were the hardest. He would get violently whipped every week, sometimes many times a week, he hardly ate, and he hardly rested. He admits he was turned into a brute, and he often forgot his time in Baltimore, when he had hopes of being a freeman. Even though I’ve read many accounts of slaves’ lives, it still amazes me how people forget their human nature and become breathing, eating-driven machines, with no other hope in the world but to continue to sustain themselves. Without the feeling of security and a sense of well being, Douglass no longer was driven to read and further his intellect, and could not sustain the hopes he had to become free. He said that he had Sundays off, and often he would go sit by the river and watch the sail boats go by, but in a “beast-like” stupor. His ode to the boat’s freedom was so passionate and detailed, I can’t stop thinking about it. How desperate and sad he felt, watching the free-sailing boats from where he sat, sad and in pain, a slave for possibly his whole life.

While reading his autobiography, I made sure to take note any time food was mentioned. I thought it was interesting how he would trade the bread he got from his master, Hughs, in Baltimore for the “bread of knowledge” the young boys in the neighborhood had. It was not surprising those boys were the what he missed most when he left Baltimore, because they helped him accomplish that which he loved most. To learn how to read and write. Something his master and mistress both fought so hard to keep him from doing because it would render him useless as a slave. The talk that Mr. Hughs had with his wife, when he caught her teaching Douglass the alphabet, was striking. How sincerely Mr. Hughs thought he understood the mind of a black slave, and how he urged his wife not to hurt him by teaching him how to read, was so wrong. In a way, it was true though, because Douglass later says how he felt cursed by his knowledge for making him aware of the prejudices set against him, while other slaves were somewhat peacefully doing what their masters told them because they didn’t understand how disadvantaged they were. It’s both sad and hopeful, the feelings that knowledge evoked in Douglass.

Another part of his autobiography that involved food, which I thought was actually amusing, was during his first year at Mr. Auld’s farm, where he was sent right after Baltimore. He once again was out of the city, which he did not like because slaves in the city were generally treated better. Master Auld did not feed his slaves near enough to eat, and so Douglass would let loose a horse in the stable that would run off to his master’s father-in-law’s farm, about five miles away. He was chided and sent by his master to go get it, and while at the father-in-law’s farm, he would always get a good meal before he had to take the horse back home. This really showed how clever and relentless Douglass was when he refused to abide by his master’s rules.

The excerpt we had to read on Frederick Douglass was actually very interesting. Especially the parts he wrote about his childhood and how children in slavery had to live. From my schooling, I have found that it is rare to address the experiences of children in slavery. Most slave narratives I have had to read focus on the experiences of adult/ teenage men and occasionally women. I never realized the children that had to endure slavery probably had it worst in a lot of ways than the adults did.

Slave Children

Having to endure entire winters in just a linen dress without even the ability to seek the comfort of your parents at times is unimaginable at that age. I felt as though, Douglass successfully uses the experiences he had as a child in slavery, especially on the southern plantation, to demonstrate some of the evils that slavery brought. No morally conscious person would be able to justify the horrors these innocent children faced in slavery. Slave narratives usually targeted Northern Christian white women as the audiences. What virtuous or Christian woman would want to hear of child suffering from “hunger and cold”? What virtuous or Christian woman would want to hear of child basically having to go hungry because he is simply not strong enough to fight others for a decent amount of food? Douglass writes that he probably had it better than most, all he had to go through was the cold and being hungry. This is to be perceived as better conditions, so Douglass leaves room for the audiences to imagine what the worst conditions would have been. A cold and hungry child is already terrible, anything worst is beyond evil. Douglass has effectively associated pure evil with slavery with just a few experiences he had as a young child.

Mary Prince and Frederick Douglas share many similarities in their accounts of the adversities of slavery. For instance, when Prince describes being sold to slaveholders, she is pulled into the street and evaluated and objectified, treated as an animal being prepared for slaughter. Douglas, too, is treated as such, forced to eat out of a trough without utensils and publically assessed like merchandise. Douglas described “…horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the same scale of being, and all subjected to the same narrow examination”(202). Douglas was even denied the opportunity to learn to read from his master’s wife, because that would make him unfit to be a slave. The master knew he could not keep a slave who could read, because a literate slave is a knowledgeable slave, and a knowledgeable slave is a dangerous slave. It diminishes the separation of man to slave or, in the eyes of the master, animal to man.

It is not coincidental that these abuses were much less severe for a slave in the city. In fact, Douglas claims that life for a slave in the city was almost like being a freeman. He was better fed, had better clothing, had more freedom to leave the master’s property for errands, and the masters themselves were generally decent, partly because they did not want the visage of being cruel. However, Douglas’ accounts of life on a plantation all have a similar theme: abuse. Whippings are regular, hunger is constant, and conditions are harsh. After the discussion in class on supply and demand, this connection between city and freedom, and plantations and cruelty, seem to revolve around the demand for food. On plantations, masters are responsible for meeting society’s demands for food. After all, everyone must eat, and everyone wants to eat. The demand is so high that simple farming is not enough; labor is necessary, and slaves performed that labor. Therefore, the pressure to supply is higher when you are the one who has to supply. This pressure to meet the demands of society, in the case of slavery, led to this awful abuse and neglect of liberties to human beings.