Friday, October 15, 2010

Jacobs, Douglass and Lies My Teacher Told Me

The obvious connection I can make between these three writings is they are all writings having to do with slavery in America, the emancipation and the reconstruction, slavery of course being the central focus. Frederick was a slave who fled to his freedom, and against great adversity managed to learn to read and write the English language. Then, using his latent storytelling skills, was able to tell his story, as a way yo educate the American masses on what life as a slave actually was.
Harriet Jacobs has a similar story, a master storyteller who used her gifts to craft a narrative that simply could not be ignored, and reminded an entire generation why they went to war and fought and died for 5 years. It was a dark and gritty truth, a truth most Americans of the time I'm sure would rather not see.
The writings in Chapter 6 of "Lies My Teacher Told Me" however spans a range of subjects pertaining to the time. The first being unsung national hero John Brown. I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea who John Brown even was before cracking open this volume, which I guess just goes to prove the point that was being made in the chapter. John Brown was one of the earliest recorded examples of a white man resorting to violence for the sake of the freedom of African American Slaves. Despite his courage, he is not a very well known patriot, and even when he is mentioned from within the annals of American History, he either barely touched upon, or painted in a rather unflattering light. Some say he was crazy, or was moved to his violent actions vis-a-vis fanatical religiously inspired hallucinations. Actual history of course will lead one to believe that none of this is true.
The second enlightening article in the chapter deals with the side of President Abraham Lincoln that never gets talked about in history textbooks. I will also shamefully admit that my view of Lincoln is forever changed after reading this book. I never imagined Lincoln as a person who really struggled with his decisions that much. In the context of history, his actions seemed to cut and dry, but to know that he was tortured internally by the remnants of his own racism acquired from his youth, vs. the guilt he felt as a Christian. To be a war president is wrought with its own turmoils without a doubt, but to shoulder this burden on top of it really makes Lincoln out to be more of a person in my eyes, and less of an iconic historical figure. After Lincoln's assassination, the chapter goes on to describe the difficulty the nation had during the reconstruction. Despite the victory of the North and the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, people who helped the newly freed slaves live and function in society did so at great risk.
Knowing of the daily dangers that white people faced during these times only makes me have more respect for Douglass, Jacobs and everyone like them, who literally had to put their lives on the line in order to tell their stories, thus canonizing them in the pages of history. Sadly, the same could not be said for poor John Brown, who not only gave his life for the cause, but was literally the first white man to do so.
In summary, the basic lesson I can take away from these three writings is that it is the job of this generation, blessed with the luxury of hindsight and instant access to information, to make sure these names, and these actions are never forgotten.

1 comment:

  1. 40/50 Evan, in future you can't submit test answers on your blog -- they have to be sent in via email. Of course you're new to the class so it's fine this time. I'll grade it and respond here. But in future, on paper or email only please.

    I'm impressed with your fluid and confident writing style and the accuracy of your grasp of the Loewen text (which is not easy reading at all). However I think you could dig even deeper in terms of, for example, the role of abolitionist whites in the two narratives -- linking Brown's story to the other courageous anti-slavery activists we encountered this week. In other words, a tighter synthesis or focus will make your grades on tests go up even more.