Re-read the passage Douglass writes after he fights with Mr.Covey. What does Douglass mean by, "however long I might remain a slave in form, the day has passed forever when I could be a slave in fact."
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Douglass is referring to the fact that the fight with Mr. Covey served to free him. He stood up to oppression and abuse, he fought back against the vioence that he'd experienced at the hands of evil men for years..... the act of fighting back returned his sense of self-respect. In essence, that was the first step in gaining back his own freedom.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass