white mastery in slavery eras
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Frederick Douglass's friends in the abolitionist movement were all extremely faithful Christians, but Douglass has some really harsh criticisms for slave owners who claim to be Christians. (Douglass believes that a person can't both be a Christian and a slave owner.) Not only does Douglass hate hypocrites, but he also tells us that religious slave owners are even worse than those who don't pretend to be religious. This sometimes got Douglass in trouble with Christians who thought he was attacking them instead of religious imposters. (That's why he wrote an entire appendix just to explain that he was against religious hypocrisy, not religion itself.)
Douglass' awareness of his status as a slave and of the meaning of slavery as an institution became clear when he witnessed his aunt being stripped to the waist and savagely beaten. One of the more famous episodes in the book involves Douglass overhearing his master, Hugh Auld, rebuking his wife for her desire to teach the slave to read and declaring that literacy “would forever unfit him to be a slave.” Douglass gleaned two valuable lessons from this experience. He first concluded that keeping slaves ignorant and illiterate was an important element in their subjugation, and resolved to teach himself to read. Second, by observing Mrs. Auld's transformation from a kindly woman with no previous experience as a slave-owner to a harsh mistress under her husband's tutelage, Douglass learned of the institution's effects on even well-intentioned whites.
Douglass's growing dissatisfaction with his condition led to the pivotal incident in which he was sent to Edward Covey, a notorious “slave-breaker,” to be disciplined. Initially reduced to little more than a brute by endless work, Douglass finally refused to submit to Covey's “discipline” any longer. The two engaged in a violent fight and Douglass, in the end, overcame his tormentor, resolving that “however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” From that point, Douglass was firmly on the road to freedom although it would take him some time before he was able to accomplish that feat. He avoided going into detail on the specific means of his escape, because to do so would “run the hazard of closing the slightest avenue by which a brother slave might clear himself of the chains and fetters of slavery.”