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U.S. History/Fredrick Douglass


QUESTION: Hi.Can you write as much as you can about this topic. The topic is Fredrick Douglass describes two events that were watersheds in his journey to freedom. The first involved his master and mistress Mr. and Mrs. Auld and specifically Mrs. Auld's attempt to teach him to read and write. The second was a desperate struggle that unfolded between Fredrick Douglass and Mr. Covey a man who had acquired a reputation as an experts at breaking young spirited slaves. Covey had determined to whip Douglass and Douglass had determined not to be whipped. Describe each of these events in some detail. Then discuss the importance of them in Douglass's development. How did they shape Fredrick Douglass, pushing him along the path that let him to become the most eloquent and persuasive spokesperson for abolition and the fiery determined advocate for Black liberation. What lessons beyond those related to Douglass's life might be drawn from these incidents. In other words what might be of the lessons applicable to any struggle for freedom and against oppression?


For the best details on these events, I recommend reading Douglass' own autobiography, available online here:

In his book he recounts the events with the Aulds and with Mr. Covey.  He went to live with the Aulds as a teenager.  Mrs. Auld recognized that he was a bright boy and began teaching him to read and write.  When Mr. Auld discovered the lessons, he put a stop to it.  Not only was teaching slaves illegal, but Mr. Auld noted that it made slaves dissatisfied with their lives if they had education.  That event not only gave young Frederick the basic ability to learn, but also the understanding  that his servile conditions was not the result of his own inferiority, but because society was keeping him from his potential.

Federick's interaction with Mr. Covey was another key event in his development.  Covey had a reputation for breaking slaves by beating them, thus squashing their defiance and disobedience.   Frederick was sent to Covey because of his behavior.  When Covey tried to beat him, Frederick resisted and fought back, something that could have gotten him the death penalty.  But Covey was so embarrassed by the fact that he could not break Frederick, that he never reported it and never tried to punish him again.  As a result, Frederick realized that defying authority was not impossible and that standing up for one's self could work.

I hope this helps!
- Mike

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QUESTION: Thanks, the history info was helpful. What i was wondering was can you help me on the last part of the question which was the lessons and stuff like that such as What lessons beyond those related to Douglass's life might be drawn from these incidents. In other words what might be of the lessons applicable to any struggle for freedom and against oppression?cause i have to write a four page essay double spaced answering this question but the history will take around two pages.

I think the broader point that Douglass and others drew from these experiences was that injustice would continue unless people stood up to challenge them.  If Douglass had accepted the status quo of the society into which he was born, he might have spent his whole life in slavery.  It was only by challenging the laws and norms of society that he was able to help change them.  For your paper, I would recommend you discuss the importance of standing up to injustice, even when that injustice seems powerful and insurmountable.

- Mike  

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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