I can’t imagine being enslaved. Those elements of life that seemed constraints — parental supervision as a child, school rules and dress codes, perhaps some government or corporate regulations — are nothing compared to the physical and mental shackles suffered when one person owns another.
That makes this letter from famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass to a man he was once forced to call “Master” so remarkable in both its restraint and warmth.
Douglass was not only a passionate advocate for freedom, but also an incredibly astute man whose nuanced view of the world assessed people as individuals, multi-layered, complex, often flawed, but unique individuals that defied simplistic categorization.
“…It is twenty years since I ran away from you, or rather not from you but from Slavery,” wrote Douglass to Hugh Auld, drawing a distinction between the man and the institution that I cannot imagine doing if I had lived his life.
FULL TEXT OF LETTER
My heart tells me that you are too noble to treat with indifference the request I am about to make, It is twenty years since I ran away from you, or rather not from you but from Slavery, and since then I have often felt a strong desire to hold a little correspondence with you and to learn something of the position and prospects of your dear children. They were dear to me – and are still – indeed I feel nothing but kindness for you all– I love you, but hate Slavery, Now my dear Sir, will you favor me by dropping me a line, telling me in what year I came to live with you in Aliceanna St. the year the Frigate was built by Mr. Beacham. The information is not for publication – and shall not be published. We are all hastening where all distinctions are ended, kindness to the humblest will not be unrewarded.
Perhaps you have heard that I have seen Miss Amanda that was, Mrs. Sears that is, and was treated kindly such is the fact, Gladly would I see you and Mrs. Auld – or Miss Sopha as I used to call her. I could have lived with you during life in freedom though I ran away from you so unceremoniously, I did not know how soon I might be sold. But I hate to talk about that. A line from you will find me Addressed FredK Douglass Rochester N. York.
I am dear sir very truly yours.