Lesson 1: From Courage to Freedom: The Reality behind the Song

One myth that Southern slave owners and proponents were happy to perpetuate was that of the slave happily singing from dawn to dusk as he worked in the fields, prepared meals in the kitchen, or maintained the upkeep of the plantation. (Interesting case in point from more recent times: Disney's 1946 Song of the South).

In his autobiography, Douglass is quick to distinguish the myth from the reality. He uses incidents of cruelty that he witnessed along with songs of the slaves themselves—spirituals—to emphasize this distinction.

Guiding Questions

How does Frederick Douglass's skilled use of language paint a realistic portrait of slavery?

According to Douglass, what were some common misconceptions about slaves and their situation?

Learning Objectives

In the process of completing this curriculum unit, students will be able to: Analyze and understand a specific type of historical and literary primary document, the slave narrative/autobiography.

Recognize and explain the use and effectiveness of precise word choice, imagery, irony, and rhetorical appeals.

Learn to look for and contrast instances of reality and romanticized myth by using the slave narrative as a source for historical study.

Examine Douglass's exploration of the multiple meanings behind slave spirituals.