The Founders: On Literacy & Liberation

The most iconic scene in the Narrative is Douglass’ description of the boats off of the Chesapeake Bay: “O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hottest hell of ending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God?” (Douglass 82). The idea that God is an entity responsible for justice plagues both Douglass and Stewart partially because of American chattel slavery. If God is charged with justice, then why are black people in this wretched condition yet white people live peaceably and fruitfully? Although Douglass does not provide answers to these rhetorical questions, the fact that he is also alluding to them leads to the belief that many black people grappled with this contradictory concept. Do we deserve to be enslaved? And who should take the blame? It does not appear that either author has an answer to this but Stewart attempts to address the issue more than Douglass. According to her interpretations:

“Many powerful sons and daughters of Africa will shortly arise, who will put down vice and immorality among us, and declare by Him that sitteth upon the throne that they will have their rights; and if refused I am afraid they will spread horror and devastation around. I believe that the oppression of injured Africa has come up before the majesty of Heaven; and when our cries shall have reached the easier of the Most High, it will be a tremendous day for people of this land; for strong is the hand of the Lord God Almighty.” (Stewart 63)

The biggest key to this statement for Stewart is that black people must put down sin and vice so that they may adequately be heard by the Lord. In contrast, Douglass appears to find more reason for disbelief in God because of the cruelty he has seen expended in His name. Either way, both authors are able to make these personal assessments of God, religion, and freedom partially because of their intimate and holy connection with literacy and their exposure to abolition.

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