Resisting Slavery: Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner’s Paths to Awareness
Slave Narratives: Shedding Light on Struggles
Slave narratives helped bring light and awareness of the struggles slaves faced in the 1800’s. These narratives allowed modern readers to experience the African-American struggle for freedom from their slave masters in the South. Two great slave narratives were the autobiographical novel Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas by Frederick Douglas and Nat Turner’s confession “T’was My Object to Carry Terror and Devastation Wherever We Went. Frederick Douglas and Nat Turner were both born slaves in the early 1800s whose legacy will be remembered forever. Nat Turner and Fredrick Douglas earned fame for two separate reasons. They were both blessed with the gift of a beautiful mind and the power and ability to resist slavery. They resisted slavery in ways that a majority of slaves feared. Although they both share similar beliefs on the immoral acts of slavery, they took different routes to bring awareness to the cruelty of slavery.
The Legacies of Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner
The autobiographical novel Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas by Frederick Douglas is a novel depicting the life of the author. Douglas used his knowledge and education to his advantage by using his faith in Southern Christianity to help gain freedom from slavery. Douglas was a slave to the Hugh Auld household; while there, he utilized and engulfed himself with literary empowerment and took great risks to continue gaining more knowledge. He continued to learn to read and write. The imagery, combined with Douglas’ views on religion’s role in the enslavement of black people, paints a story that can be compared to the views of Nat Turner.
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The Power of Resistance: Douglas and Turner’s Shared Beliefs
Douglas and Turner also shared the same belief, in my opinion, in the pursuit of authority. The idea that no human should be allowed to own another human being. They were both considered useless as slaves because of their ability to read and write. This was portrayed when Douglass was sent to live with Edward Covey to be “broken” into a slave. This initially worked until Douglass fought back against Covey. After a two-hour fight, Convey never put his hands on Douglas again. Turner, on the other hand, was told his uncommon intelligence deemed him useless as a slave; he still became a slave in his adult years. This was a turning point where he realized his purpose was larger than being a slave. After running away from his master, he returned after 30 days. He remembered all his visions as a child and believed the Holy Spirit visited him and told him to return to his “earthly master.”
Different Paths of Resistance: Douglass and Turner’s Approaches
In contrast to Douglass’s narrative “T’was My Object to Carry Terror and Devastation Wherever We Went,” Nat Turner’s “Confesses,” Virginia, 1831, was a confession Turner made in jail after killing slave owners. Nat Turner led one of the greatest slave revolts in the history of slavery. Turner uses scriptural and biblical knowledge to justify his actions. He, in a sense, played “God”. He believed he was following the orders of the Holy Spirit. Nat Turner was an uncommon child. He was born with birthmarks and had visions of acts that happened before his lifetime. He was never taught how to read like Douglas; it was believed he was born with the ability. When he would cry, they would give him a book, and he would essentially teach himself how to read and write.
I believe Douglas’s intended audience was anyone he could inform why slavery was immorally wrong and inhuman. Turner’s narrative, however, was made for an audience to understand why he led the rebellion and murdered his slave-owners. Douglass’s message was more widespread than Turner’s message. I think Douglass’s message was more important as well because he wanted the reader to think about what it takes for the human spirit to be free rather than just thinking about the legal, historical, and political issues of slavery and freedom. Turner’s narrative was a message that shined light on his holy spirit, giving him the power and the understanding of why the world should not continue with slavery.
- Douglass, Frederick. (1845). “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.” Retrieved from Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23
- Turner, Nat. (1831). “Confessions of Nat Turner.” Retrieved from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/turner/turner.html
- Roediger, D. R., & Franklin, V. P. (Eds.). (1998). “Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White.” Random House.
- Genovese, E. D. (1979). “From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World.” LSU Press.
- Blassingame, J. W. (1972). “The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South.” Oxford University Press.
- Osofsky, G. (1971). “Puttin’ on Ole Massa: The Slave Narratives as Folklore.” Journal of American Folklore, 84(332), 313-328.