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In the study of African American rights, one does not fail to come across people, who stood bravely in pursuit of a better society. Slavery was legal in the United States with black people being depicted as a lesser human. Two men Malcolm X and Fredrick Douglass lived through different but very challenging times (Douglass and Stepto 45).
They abhorred slavery, seeing it in the light of the denial of fundamental human rights. By writing the essays “A Homemade Education and Learning to read and write” they both use the power of words as a door to freedom. In the history of writing, Malcolm X and Fredrick Douglass are the two most inspirational people on account of their life underwent struggle in their period and helped to turn it around (Wainstock and X 10).
Frederick Douglass lived in Master Hugh’s family for close to seven years. He was a slave for life who depended on the mercies of his masters. At that time, it was deemed an offense for a slave to learn how to read and write. Douglass had a mistress who was kind-hearted and could relate to the pain of slavery as the slaves themselves. She started to teach him how to read the alphabet. However, as time passed and upon the influence of her husband, “the tender heart became stone, and her lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness” (Douglass and Stepto 50).
The general view was that when a slave learns how to read, they could be uncontrollable. The mistress took it upon herself to prevent such from happening and even denied him the luxury of reading any newspapers (Douglass and Stepto 59).
Malcolm X grew up in the times when slavery was being practiced in the United States. He dropped out of school in eighth grade. He was challenged in the area of writing and was incapacitated without the skill and ability to write letters to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. The only way and words he knew were slang and wondered how he would sound saying things like, “Look daddy let me pull your coat about a cat, Elijah Muhammad” (Wainstock and X 10). He was then to be imprisoned, and inside the four walls of the prison, he developed the urge to write. Bimbi gave him the motivation to want to write better.
Faced with these hardships, Fredrick was good at making friends with the little white boys. He used to visit them at different times and shared with them the challenges and intricacies of being a slave. He expressed to them; they are far luckier since, at their young ages, they were subject to their guardian’s rules, however, after attaining twenty-one years old they would be free men. He on the other end was a slave for life and could not do anything to alter that. This brought him to hope that someday something will occur, and he would be able to be a free man. The idea of being a slave for life was a pain in his heart and soul (Douglass and Stepto 65).
Malcolm X, on the other hand, was a famous and respected person in black society. He was fast in making friends and when he talked, his audience connected with him. This caused them to respect him. In prison, he envied Bimbi due to his ability to control conversations and being a social person; he wanted some of that to further his communication ability (Wainstock and X 15).
Process of self-education
Frederick made teachers of his newfound white boys from the poor background with the exchange of a loaf of bread for some sort of training. At twelve years old he held the book called “The Columbian orator.” Here Fredrick first read about the expressed master and slave dialogue that was written in the book. He later read an article from Sheridan about the Catholic emancipation. This book arose from the expression of the many thoughts that previously had come to his mind. The light of truth dawned on him, and he now could understand the relationship between a slave and a master better. He reasoned and judged them to be robbers who stole people from their peace-loving country back in the continent of Africa only to take them far and enslave them (Douglass and Stepto 61).
After his quest to learn to read was successful, he trained his ambitions on learning how to write as well. He started to learn by observing how the carpenters of a ship wrote down some measurements and grew his keen interest even mastering the letters they wrote. Later using a book called Webster’s spelling book, he started copying the italicized words and perfected his handwriting. He would then revert to his character of turning the young children into teachers and by so helping him learn even more. He later used Master Thomas copy-book and advanced his handwriting.
He started with a dictionary by slowly putting down word by word from a page. He then would concentrate upon trying to read his own words. He came to learn a lot of words together with their meanings. He moved on until he covered the whole dictionary. With this, his word knowledge was highly enriched together with his comprehension of some different words. According to him, ” I suppose it was inevitable since my word-based broadened, I could for the first time pick up a book read and understand what the book was saying”(Douglass and Stepto 70).
Effect of knowledge
While knowledge opened the eyes of both, it added joy to Malcolm X and sorrows to Frederick. The rush of knowledge made him dislike and even start to hate his masters. He now understood clearly what slavery was all about. He longed for discussions that revolved around slavery and liberation. His brain was alive to the acts against humanity that the masters were imposing on them. With more knowledge, he couldn’t stand them:
As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! That very discontent which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It gave me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity (Douglass and Stepto 102).
He thought of animals as being more privileged than he was and longed-for death. Malcolm X knowledge discovery had more of a pleasurable liberating feeling. He was immersed and forgot his misery of being in a prison. Any free time he got, he spent it reading more and more (Wainstock and X 18). Through his ability to read better he became fascinated by the white man from all over the world.
Frederick’s paper was written way back in 1845, he was born into slavery. Malcolm’s paper was written in 1965, which is more than a hundred years later. The former lived in a harsher time than the latter. Malcolm was privileged to school up to the eighth-grade, learning way through the alphabet. Frederick had to educate himself and went through a lot to do that. It was at a time when if caught he could have been killed. His move to seek literacy was a matter of life or death.
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The two stories show the continuity of the struggle that was for African Americans. Malcolm X, however, was assisted by the prison authorities in his quest for materials to further his writing and reading (Wainstock and X 20).
In the history of writing, Malcolm X and Fredrick Douglas are two most inspirational people who on account of their life underwent struggle in their period and helped to turn it around. During harsh times when the population needed liberators these two men refused to settle for the status quo and risked their lives to stand for what they believed in. They both had measures of functional inabilities that fueled their search for knowledge.
They both reflect on the importance of words as a powerful tool for fighting oppression. The irony of it is that they realized that by being more educated they were setting themselves up to be targets of fury from the white people. The extent through which they went to acquire some basic rights teaches society to appreciate and value the freedom it enjoys. These two challenges the modern present world to eradicate illiteracy among its population.
Douglass, Frederick, and Robert B. Stepto. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Cambridge: The Belknap press of Harvard University press, 2009. Print.
Wainstock, Dennis D, and Malcolm, X. African American Revolutionary. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2008. Print.