Frederick Douglass: Freedom’s force

Frederick Douglass: Freedom’s force

Rocca, Al M

Instructional Kit Review

Time-Life History Makers

Time-Life Education Inc. 0-7835-5439-7 With a Book by Melva Lawson Ware

Frederick Douglass: Freedom’s Force is one of a series of instructional kits designed to teach a significant historical period through the eyes of key player alive at the time. The choice of Frederick Douglass to teach about the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery is excellent, as his speeches and writings influenced many Americans. Douglass’ Fourth of July speech in 1852 let the country know his feelings about slavery:

“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham…This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

–Independence Day Oration, Rochester, New York, 1852

There are three components to the instructional kit: Frederick Douglass: Freedom Force, a book by Melva Lawson Ware; Teacher’s Guide; and an interactive CD-ROM. Ware’s book is an outstanding summary of Douglass’ life and times. Of particular interest is Chapter 1 on the boyhood experiences of Douglass and his grandmother. Ware’s retelling of the separation ol six-year old Douglass from his grandmother is moving and a shocking reminder to students of the ultimate hardship of slavery. The account is clear that the practice of selling children was common place in many of the larger plantation settlements. Students can also read Douglass’ personal account of the traumatic event:

“One of the children, who had been in the kitchen, ran up to me, in a sort of roguish glee, exclaiming, “Fed, Fed! grandmammy gone! grandmanny gone!” I could not believe it; yet fearing the worst, I ran into the kitchen, to see for myself, and found it even so.”

Ware continues the story in short vignettes with subtitles such as, “Hard Realities,” “The Great House,” “Curious Choices,” and “A Special Friend.” The last episode recalls how Douglass’ master, Captain Anthony, was convinced to send the eight-year old Douglass to Baltimore. This was a major turning point for Douglass. Hugh and Sophia Auld took him in. They had never owned slaves before and so Douglass was treated as if he was part of the family, getting an abundance of food and clothing.

The reading level of Ware’s book is well within the range of most eighth graders and the narrative is engaging. An example of her writing follows: “Frederick now clearly understood something that had troubled him for as long as he could remember. What gave whites the power to enslave blacks? He now believed that this power came from knowledge that whites had but would not share with blacks. Frederick decided that if knowledge would make him unfit to be a slave, he must gain that knowledge as quickly as possible.”

Ware intersperses many quotes from Douglass’ autobiography and effectively blends them with her narrative to keep the reader interested. A good example of this is the section dealing with Frederick’s escape to freedom:

“Frederick and Anna [his first wife] had made arrangements to meet in New York City. Traveling from Baltimore to Wilmington by train, Frederick then took a steamboat up the Delaware River to Philadelphia. Finally, he took a second train to New York City. Upon reaching New York on September 4, 1838, Frederick wrote to a friend:

“I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.” Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.'”

Ware’s book moves through Douglass’ life with ample treatment to both his personal and professional accomplishments. His work as a speaker for freedom and the right for blacks to fight in the Civil War are all well told. The book ends with Douglass’ experiences such as the death of Anna, his ambassadorship to Haiti and his second marriage to Helen Pitts. Without a doubt Freedom’s Force, is one of he best short biographies of Frederick Douglass.

The second component of the instructional set, the teacher’s guide, is a fine compilation of strategies and resources. A list of thematic strands that addresses the curriculum standards of the National Council for Social Studies. For example, under the standard of “Production, Distribution and Consumption,” the guide states that it, “Explains the economics of slavery and sharecropping in the South; shows the economic struggles faced by newly freed African Americans after the Civil War.”

The guide next provides a summary historical context for the African Diaspora and American slavery in particular. The summary correctly notes that the first groups of Africans were sold as Indentured Servants, not slaves, but that later each colony created laws legalizing slavery. Interestingly, the guide attempts to claim that “fugitive slaves” helped bring down the Roman Empire. If this is a reference to the slave revolt of Spartacus, they have a bit overreached in making the connection.

Teaching strategies are an important consideration in deciding how to effectively teach the content and the guide provides two outstanding sections on “Using Autobiographies” and “What’s is a name?” The latter was a very interesting strategy for understanding how slaves and free blacks acquired and later, chose surnames. In the former section, students learn the difference between a biography and an autobiography. There is additional information on writing activities, mapping, writing news stories, and creating parallel timelines.

The last component of the kit is the interactive CD-ROM that offers a wide variety of reference material of Douglass, slavery and the Civil War. A one section allows users to trace Douglass’ escape to freedom and subsequent travels on maps and accompanying descriplions of important events at each location. Additionally, there is a Who’s Who of relevant personalities that were part of Douglass’ life and involved in the slavery controversy and/or the Civil War. One can also visit section of the CD that details his life and accomplishments. All in all, this is an excellent teaching tool and primary source for students doing research on Frederick Douglass, American slavery and the Civil War.

Review by Al M. Rocca

Al M. Rocca is Professor of Education at Simpson College in Redding, California. He has been active in CCSS for over twenty years and now serves as the editor of the Social Studies Review.

Copyright California Council for the Social Studies Fall 2002

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved