Throughout history America has always battled issues with race. Whether it was slaves fighting for freedom, African Americans struggling for equality or today’s issue of illegal immigrants, race in America is a constant evolving subject. With the struggles of these people have come many inspiring works of literature, each voicing the same message of freedom and equality. In the famous speeches of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. and the writings of former slaves each share similarities and differences between the ways in which they are written, presented, their message, and how their audience responded to their words. Each speech and writing shook the people who heard it and helped change and make history. These powerful works of literature are a true inspiration, without them our world would not be the same. Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest abolitionist leaders of the nineteenth century, was born into slavery in the year 1818 on a plantation in Maryland.
Frederick Douglass lived the first twenty years of his life as a slave; throughout this time he witnessed and felt the harsh life of a slave. Slaves were often restricted; they were allowed to do very little, especially with white people. One activity they were allowed to partake in during slavery was worship. Frederick Douglass did not hate Christianity, what he hated was the prejudice within the Christian churches of America. He spoke about this discrimination, in his speech The Church and Prejudice. Douglass delivered the speech on November 4th 1841 in Plymouth County Massachusetts. Throughout the Speech Frederick Douglass spoke on both the discrimination against the free blacks in the north and the cruelty against the slaves in the south, for example he states in his speech, “Yet people in general will say they like colored men as well as any other, but in their proper place! They assign us that place; they don’t let us do it for ourselves, nor will they allow us a voice in the decision. They will not allow that we have a head to think, and a heart to feel, and a soul to aspire. They treat us not as men, but as dogs–they cry “Stu-boy!” and expect us to run and do their bidding.
That’s the way we are liked. You degrade us, and then ask why we are degraded–you shut our mouths, and then ask why we don’t speak–you close our colleges and seminaries against us, and then ask why we don’t know more” (1). Slave narratives may not be written in the same style but they still hold the same meaning. Frederick’s speech appeals to the conscience of his audience and so does the writings of former slaves, such as Harriet Jacobs. Each work has the same underlined meaning, that the way in which slaves and blacks are treated is cruel and wrong. Harriet achieves this by writing about her struggles and escaping, revealing the tortures of being a slave, Fredrick on the other hand uses reason and proof. They are written differently but they each hold the same message and achieved the same reaction. Both works helped aid in the anti-slavery movement and helped people realize the evilness of slavery. Frederick Douglass was not the only one who contributed to the anti-slavery movement.
Booker T. Washington, born a slave as well, became a notable writer, teacher, and speaker. In September 1895, Washington delivers the following speech, “Atlanta Compromise Address,” before a predominantly white audience at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. His charismatic and peaceful personality along with his role in philanthropic acts, politics, and negotiations soon turned him into a source of admiration shortly after the end of the civil war and helped him get his point across during this time. In his most famous speech Washington says, “One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section can disregard this element of our population and reach the highest success. I but convey to you, Mr. President and Directors, the sentiment of the masses of my race when I say that in no way have the value and manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly and generously recognized than by the managers of this magnificent Exposition at every stage of its progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement the friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom” (1).
He is expressing his beliefs that African Americans should take advantage of what they know and strive to excel in the occupations that they already have instead of having an everlasting fight for something. He also argues that whites should open their minds and see that African Americans are their allies who are willing to do business and work together in order to have better living standards for both. Washington’s skills as a public speaker along with his use of rhetorical strategies such as logos and ethos, allegory, and tone are what made such an impacting and powerful speech. This speech has a different message than others of this time and the message slave narratives were giving as well. Instead of showing the evils of slavery Washington begins his speech by telling the blacks they should join the field of work. This speech is not so much addressing the sadness and devastation of slavery more a call to have the whites and blacks work together to make a better America.
This speech came to be known as one of the most influential speeches in history, although the organizers of the exposition worried that “public sentiment was not prepared for such an advanced step,” they decided that inviting a black speaker would impress Northern visitors with the evidence of racial progress in the South. This speech had, if not more, of an impact on blacks gaining the equality they deserved than that of the slave narratives. They were written differently, but they each have the same audience and they are each fighting for the same cause. Equality and freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. is a man everyone knows. He has made an everlasting impact on society. One of the most famous speeches to ever be delivered is his speech, “I Have a Dream”. In his speech Luther King Jr. states, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”(1). This seems to be the want of every African American in America.
The same message has been stated with Douglass, Washington, and Harriet Jacobs. They each want so desperately to be treated the same as everyone else, to have the same rights, to just be treated as a person with dignity and worth. Just like every speech before this one it had the same impact on those who heard it. This speech touches the hearts of everyone who hears it and it makes those who have heard it want a change in this world, want something better. Not only does Martin Luther King’s speech appeal to the conscience of those who hear his words but the same affect is received by the people who read the stories of former slaves. No one can read those stories and not feel the guilt for the wrong doings of their people. There is a difference in the way the way these documents are presented, each using different words and different techniques to get their point across.
This speech and others like it have forever impacted society. Throughout history there has been incredible struggles involving race and equality. It seems like something that would not be too hard to ask for, unfortunately it is, and even today people have difficulty accepting those who are the most different. Looking at these historic documents there are elements that would be beneficial to take from and learn from. Each document shares the same message of fairness, equal opportunity, and the better interaction of others. The difference in the way they convey their messages shows not all actions need to be voiced by word of mouth. The impact these writings had on society will last forever, it shows that if you stick up for what is right change will happen. Maybe the world we live in could change for the better and there will finally be fairness for all.