Slaves were not supposed to be taught to read and write. The slave owners knew that knowledge is a powerful force and could create unrest among their captives. Despite the laws that prevented education for slaves some slaves acquired the skills to read and write through the efforts of other slaves and also through masters who broke those laws. Upon obtaining their freedom through escaping or by purchasing it, they took paper and pen and put down their thoughts about what slavery meant to them and their fellow captives.
After slavery ended in the United States some slaves were interviewed to get their thoughts about the early years of their lives spent in bondage.
Below are some quotes from former slaves.
“I sure had a hard life. Just work and work and work. I never know nothing but work… I never knowed what it was to rest. I just work all the time from morning till late at night.” Sarah Gadger
“The whip is all in all. It is supposed to secure obedience to the slaveholder.” Frederick Douglas
“Master Williams come up and say, ‘Delis will you allow Jim walk down the street with me?’ My mammy say, ‘All right Jim, you be a good boy’ and that was the last time I ever heard her speak or ever see her. We walked down where the houses grow close together and pretty soon come to the slave market. .. when Master Williams says, ‘Get up on the block.’ I got a funny feeling and I knew what happened.” James Green describing his separation from his mother as a young boy
“I have been so pinched with hunger that I have fought with the dog for the smallest crumbs that fell from the kitchen table.” Frederick Douglas
“I could have made my escape alone; but it was more for my helpless children than for myself that I longed for freedom… I would not have taken it at the expense of leaving them in slavery. Every trial I endured, every sacrifice I made for their sakes, drew them closer to my heart, and gave me fresh courage to beat back the dark waves that rolled and rolled over me in a seemingly endless night of storms.” Harriet Jacobs
“I have often wished myself a beast or a bird, anything rather than a slave.” Frederick Douglas
“What had I done, what had my parents done, that such a life as this should be mine?” Frederick Douglas
Last updated: 2/15/2018
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