Frederick Douglass: Freedom's Force

Article excerpt

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. …