Christmas is such a joyous time of year in America. Presents, food, family, such a beautiful holiday to celebrate and relax. Yet, does everyone feel the same way as I do about Christmas? Well, no, if we’re talking about Frederick Douglass that is. A former slave, writer, and an activist for the end of slavery, he would not fathom the concept of Christmas in the context of how it was used against his people. Holidays and sports were only distractions for a black man, there is no intellectual discourse between their peers and it was used to make any slave numb from escaping for freedom.
In his book, Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, he describes in one part on how Christmas holidays gave a type of break for slaves in plantations. There was no work done and slaves were allowed to visit families, play sports, and get drunk on alcohol. However, Douglass comments on how holidays “serve as conductors, or safety-valves”(115) to calm down their need to escape. The slave owners would make sure the slaves were always occupied by activities that made them glad that they could go back to work. An example would be making them drunk until they are sick, so the joys of alcohol were not only short but effective so that the slave thinks that such a luxury is not worth the risk of his life. It is, perfectly put by Douglass, “to disgust the slave with freedom, by allowing him to see only the abuse of it”(116).
Take a look at the image shown in the post. It summarizes what Douglass is speaking about. You see many many blacks sitting and watching a man dancing with a white lady in the far left watching the whole ordeal. We may see the smiling faces of the slaves, enjoying their break, but why so many slaves watching? If these are all the slaves gathered around this man, does this represent what Douglass was talking about? None of the slaves are participating in mind challenging activity like conversation, only watching the dancing man. What is important to notice is the lady watching the. Yes, she is doing nothing but she could be the organizer of the event and may very well be connected to the slave owner to these men, women, and children. This supervision is always carried out to make sure they do not indulge in a concept of freedom.
The women also must be drawing something and there shows a black man sitting with a glass in his hand, most likely alcohol. A plantation is shown in the center in the background. Its presence is far but it is certainly there, representing a centered part in a slaves live. It is in the middle and overlooks the crowd just like the lady is watching them up close. It is everywhere in the slave’s lives, and it does not escape them or enters their mind during these holidays.
It is what angers Frederick Douglass because he wants slaves to seek out freedom but cannot due to this illusion of freedom and supervision by their slave owners. He has worked to try to educate his people during slavery, teaching them to read because he believes that education leads a slave to freedom, a trait that slave owners loathe. A smart slave is terrible because they have spirit and can live independently of the owner. The picture is only a representation of what he fears the most, and that is action without thought.
Douglas, Frederick, and Houston A. Jr. Baker. Frederick Douglas: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. New York, NY: Penguin, 1986. Print.