To keep them in their place, slaves were forbidden to be taught how to read or write, they were separated from their families at even very young ages and were regularly physically and emotionally beaten as a means of keeping them in line. All of this had the effect of reducing these people to the survival instincts of animals,
reinforcing concepts held by the white people as well as the slaves that this menial labor was all they were capable of – higher thought was clearly beyond the capacity of their more primitive brains. Proving that this was not the case, though, was Frederick Douglass, the first black man to appear on a presidential ticket in America. An escaped slave from Maryland, Douglass toured the country and the world telling his story and illuminating the various ways in which black people are kept in their dark imprisonment through no fault of their own and with little hope of discovering a means of true escape. In his early narrative Frederick Douglass: Life of an American Slave, the author details his early life and education in such a way that he illustrates both the dehumanizing effects of slavery as well as those factors that operated to inspire him to ‘become a man’ rather than remaining in the role of a slave. This narrative, as well as the speeches and work Douglass did to increase awareness of the true condition of the slave, did much to convince the white people of the world that black people had equal potential when given equal opportunity.
Although his exact birth date is unknown, Douglass believed he was born sometime in February of 1818, already a slave on a Maryland farm. He died on February 20, 1895. The name he was given at birth was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but he later changed it as he discovered more information about his probable parentage.