The BODY Captive in Servitude
with a foundational reference to
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
Reading Frederick Douglass’s Narrative made my problems pale by comparison. His first person experience enriched my understanding of the evils mankind both endures and inflicts on it’s own. America is young compared to all who inhabit the same Earth. We are a unique kind of nation, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade was a unique kind of evil. The idea that so many nations contributed to the organized dominance over one kind of people, turning free men, women and children into property, is heartless and barbaric. But It ‘s not just a systemic AMERICAN problem. It’s a worldwide HUMAN problem.
YESTERDAY. TODAY. TOMORROW.
This book stirred so many more questions than I could answer. I sat with his words for a while, and it caused me to contemplate slavery from the beginning to the end. WHERE DO WE SIT AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME? Mankind has enslaved itself as far back as we have records to prove, and yet modern American culture is fixated on a mere 300 years, with itself at the center. We can’t just lock antiquity into a closet and pretend it will stay in the past. We can’t smother all spirituality with a 21st century secular blanket. We can’t turn the ugliness of history into cartoons for kids and graphic novels for teenagers while only giving them modern day books to read. Our kids need literacy and reading and thinking and writing. They need time to be a student through their K-12 years.
PART 1 INTRO : Slave To
PART 2 : Slave To MAN
PART 3 : Slave To SCHOOL
PART 4 : Slave To DEATH
A Brief History
Slavery Through the Ages
“Primitive man killed his enemy and ate him. Later, the sequel of battle was the slaying of all the vanquished and the appropriation of their goods, including women and other live stock. Then it was found more profitable to spare the conquered warrior’s life and set him to do the victor’s disagreeable work; more profitable, and incidentally more merciful. Civilization advanced; wars became less general; but in the established social order that grew up there was a definite place for a great class of slaves. It was part of Nature’s early law, the strong raising themselves upon the weak.” – George S. Merriam
Joseph was sold into slavery in 1898 BC according to Genesis 37:28 and by 1446 BC, Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites because they grew too numerous for his liking. According to Exodus 1:8-16, He feared in time they would overrun his kingdom, and so to prevent the Israelites from growing in strength number and spirit, Pharaoh made them slaves.
“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.”
“Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was names Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”
– Exodus 1:8-16 ESV
In the Ancient World, slavery was very common. Aristotle described it as natural and even necessary (350 BC). Most Roman gladiators were slaves (100 BC to 100 AD). The word is derived from Slav because so many Slavs were enslaved in the western European Roman Empire of the Early Middle Ages (500 AD to 1050 AD). The Vikings raided towns from Ireland to Russia and brought back a range of nationalities to be sold in the slave markets of London, Dublin, and Rome (793-1066 AD). “Thralls” of Saxon England were kept until the 12th Century (400-1100 AD). The Mayans (1800 BC to 1519 AD) and Aztecs (1450 AD) kept slaves in Central America before the Europeans arrived.
… And on and on and on … humans have enslaved humans century after century in every country across the world. The heartbreaking fact is, in nearly all cases, THEY ARE POOR. The slave trade feeds on the vulnerable, the orphaned, the mentally unstable, and the needy.
From the 7th to the 19th century, the Arabs took a large number of slaves from Africa and sold them for goods from the Mediterranean during the Arab Slave Trade. When Islam spread across North Africa, Muslims expanded this trade to include Europeans as well. By the 1400’s, they were taken to work on sugar plantations in modern Morocco, which then expanded to Brazil and the Caribbean to meet the growing demand for plantation workers in the New World. And so began the Slave Trade triangle of goods : African people – sugar, cotton, tobacco and coffee – gum, alcohol, iron and cloth. (find link in references at end)
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What DID it mean to be a slave in 1825?
Is it even possible for our 21st Century mind to comprehend? Maybe not, but we have to try! And the best way to understand is to pick up a book, to read firsthand accounts of slavery from those like Frederick Douglass, and to contemplate the understanding of life at that time through literary classics written by Mark Twain and Harper Lee.
Our idea of “slavery” conforms to life as we know it today. Irregardless of the skin color we are born, it is possible that we actually ARE incapable of relating to the Israelite, the Thrall, the Mayan, and the African slave of centuries past. The story of their struggle might become morbidly fictitious to us if we continue to view them through 21st century goggles. We’d have to peal away a lot of layers to fully understand what Frederick Douglass endured and broke free from. We’d have to forget Gen Z, Y and X and all their technological advancements. We’d have to put the Baby Boomer revolutionaries, the Traditionalist overcomers, and the G.I. war enduring generations aside for a moment, and simply listen to the words of an American slave …
Frederick Douglass writes about the “slave breaker” he was sent to work for.
“Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”
“I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday … The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit.”
“The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.”
With no knowledge of geographical whereabouts, escape is scarcely imaginable.
“We could see no spot, this side of the ocean, where we could be free. We knew nothing about Canada. Our knowledge of the north did not extend farther than New York; and to go there, and be forever harassed with the frightful liability of being returned to slavery – with the certainty of being treated tenfold worse than before – the thought was truly a horrible one, and one which it was not easy to overcome.”
“I have observed this in my experience of slavery, – that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man.”
“They came because they wished to learn. Their minds had been starved by their cruel masters. They had been shut up in mental darkness. I taught them, because it was the delight of my soul to be doing something that looked like bettering the condition of my race.”
Importance of Education.
Alfrieda Baldwin is the Founder of Laurel Community Micro School located in Saint Paul, just 10 minutes outside district 833’s boundary. She opened her school one short year ago last September, and on March 16th I had the privilege to hear her speak in a large congregation as she explained the mission statement of her school.
“Our mission statement says that we want to equip the next generation to use their unique gifts and talents to serve humanity and glorify God. I don’t think you can do that unless you can do certain things well, like read and write and do math. (minute 11:58-12:24)
“I always say there is a reason they didn’t let slaves learn to read, because you’re powerless.”
WOW, THAT IS POWERFUL! I had never quite heard anyone say it so matter-of-fact … the interconnectedness of illiteracy and slavery. Alfrieda’s statement rung in my ear the entire time I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
Learn more about Laurel here at JAiME for SCHOOLS highlight.
As I quote historians, educators, authors and books throughout this series, I do so because I do not personally have experience with slavery. Nor do I have a family history of captivity like some of my friends. The closest any member of my family has experienced captivity was my Grandfather in World War II. He was an American Prisoner of War at the age of just 15 years old, and he wrote a book (unpublished) that details out his captivity at the German camps of STALAG II-A, STALAG III-B, and STALAG VII-A. Every time I read his story, it is through the blurry vision of tears.
Since I do not have personal or family history with slavery, I ask a lot of questions and read a lot of books. I do not claim to be an expert. I think there is one topic though that I can speak to from personal experience, and that is the drastic difference in quality education between public school systems vs private school models. My children attended South Washington County Public Schools for ten years. I became very unsettled in 2021 with the quality of education my (then) sixth and ninth graders were receiving. Every day I anxiously asked “What did you learn today?” Every day I was disappointed by the lack of content and context their schools were providing. The failure of district 833 to educate my children was not acceptable to me, and so I sought better school options.
Our family now has one year of private school education under our belt. I have been absolutely blown away by the content-rich education my kids now receive. This article series, Slave To, speaks to the very essence of my decision to seek alternative education options for my children while at the same time running for school board in SoWashCo 833. Those of us living in the 21st Century are afforded the advantage of HISTORICAL CONTEXT. So why don’t more public schools teach ancient history, read classic novels, and study the ancient human civilizations that lead to the dream of a new land and the founding of America?
Douglass could NOT read about you and about me, but we CAN read about him. Today we not only have the means (education), but we also have the resources (free libraries), and the knowledge (history) that Douglass did not have.
My son is at Concordia Academy, and my daughter is at North Heights Christian Academy. The tenth grade Western Civilization Course Outline last year included “The Advent of Israel, The Greeks, The Roman Republic, The Roman Empire, Medieval Europe and The Renaissance”. My seventh grader accepted a reading challenge to complete a book by Padraic Column, “A Children’s Homer, The Adventures of Odysseus And the Tale of Troy.” Though Homer’s work is considered more legendary than historical, its influence on Western Civilization was great as it defined ancient Greek culture, education and future famous art. My kids now have debates about King Nebuchadnezzar, Hammurabi, Socrates and Plato. It is amazing to witness their transformation into engaged, hopeful learners!
“Why is History Important?”
This was the title of the very first essay Concordia assigned. The intro explained, “Whether it’s the existence of ancient Greece or the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., the D-Day Invasion or the Jewish Rebellion against Rome, the invention of the printing press or even your great-grandparents moving to the Twin Cities, there is potential great significance in these events for your life. And then there’s the drama of it all, the grand story from which thrilling stories are written, epic movies are made, and even songs composed.”
This is a good segway into the next article, “Slave To SCHOOL”. I will reference Rebecca Friedrichs’ book, “Standing Up to Goliath, Battling State and National Teachers’ Unions for the Heart and Soul of our Kids and Country.” I will also speak to how American slaves were denied the possession of knowledge, dignity and liberty. Who is Angela Y. Davis, and what connection does she have with Frederick Douglass? In summary …
Does the social justice warrior of today seek to stir empathy among us for the plight of the 19th century abolitionist?
I see bitterness and anger without education and understanding. As social groups fight over who is more oppressed, our kids suffer.
Meanwhile the words of Frederick Douglass are used by extreme Progressives to justify the use of violence and their hatred for America. It has infiltrated into our public schools. At the secondary public school level, it is becoming less a place to peacefully LEARN and more a dangerous BATTLE ground.
This was not the soul of Frederick Douglass. Throughout his narrative, I noticed he did not speak with hate in his heart. He had every right to be angry, but it is with humility and kindness that he writes of his tribulations. He sought to live out his life through the word of the Lord.
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Let’s talk about that … next.
Community connections and strong family units are more important than ever in raising our kids under truth and protection while holding the education system accountable.
by JAiME for SCHOOLS July 6th, 2022
REFERENCES “Slave To MAN”
Book : Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave by Frederick Douglass with an introduction by John Stauffer