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A biography of the life of Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin

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This paper will compare and contrast the different experiences of two separate authors during the nineteenth and twentieth century in America. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass relates events that happened to him in the 19th century and how he overcame them. Douglass went from a life of slavery, to freedom and became a speaker and writer on the evils men commit against each other. James Baldwin the author of The Fire Next Time, shows changes and struggles that occurred over one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation declared Negroes free American Citizens. Baldwin cannot understand why in a country characterized worldwide with freedom are white and black only color signs displayed? (54-55). However, there are two sides for the reasons of the social breakdown of unity among people in United States.

Douglass became a prominent world renowned speaker and writer on the abolition of slavery. His speeches mainly focused on his first hand experiences as a southern slave. He used Reverend Rigby Hopkins as an example to show the brutal treatment given by some religious leaders in the south, who invented reasons to apply the whip to some slaves on Monday (Douglass, 47). Slave owners were impressed with the reputation of Mr. Covey as a “well trained-negro breaker and slave-driver” after one year a slave would be returned to his owner fit for duty (Douglass, 34,45,46). The audience was also engaged by his sense of humor, when he told about breaking the slave breaker Edward Covey (Douglass, 42-43). However, not all slave owners were brutal Mr. Freeland was the best master Douglass had until he became his own master (Douglass, 49 ). Douglass had enough to eat and time to eat it unlike the year he spent with Mr. Covey (36).

Douglass later included information about the racial situation in the north. Further he reminded people that a black man could not always find work even in Massachusetts. However, he relates that some white people provided him with safety and shelter, like Mr. David Ruggles who proved a dear and lasting friend (Douglass, 64-65). Truman established the “Anti-Lynching laws” to guarantee black voters rights, ended the poll tax and literacy test to prevent negroes from voting in the south. Truman established a permanent agency to promote equal employment opportunities for all Americans. Some black men were assaulted or killed in the south for exercising their right to vote. White and black men were killed in riots in the early part of the twentieth century in the north. Truman used his executive power to desegregate the armed forces of the United States in 1948. Prior to World War II 80% of black people lived in the south and were employed in the farming industry.

Baldwin lived through riots started by white and black American in cities across the nation caused by imagined and real injustices. Baldwin disagrees that violence is the answer to the problems in American society, he feels that non-violent action can bring about change because white men value their lives, self-image and do not want their property threatened (59). Even, though President Lincoln had “Emanicipated” the Negro in 1865, he was still not free one hundred years later during the 1950s and 1960s. African Americans still suffer unjust treatment at the hands of white bartenders and policement, according to the law he is quilty until proven innocent in most cases. Martin Luther King said we will not obey unjust laws. The white power structure of America is threatened by the black man’s refusal to accept their definition of the world (69).

Baldwin was startled to find that things had not changed in his absence, he was still called a nigger and a boy at the age of thirty-seven and denied service at some bars and establishments (Baldwin, 55). WEB Dubois identified the problem of the Negro as the color line. Baldwin realized that color remains a major political reality that would probably continue into the twenty-first century. He wrote the Fire Next Time to prepare his nephew and future generations of his family for the coming storm. The first time evil were destroyed it was by water, in the future it will be by fire (104).

The Civil Rights Era brought many positive changes for the Negro in america. Both Black and white people joined together to demand equal rights and the laws of the land be enforced by the government. However, the President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted and enforced the laws concerning equality for american citizens, he wrote the civil rights act of 1964.

Both Douglass and Baldwin relate the ongoing struggle for the unification of America. The moral is that a country divided cannot stand look at the Soviet Union. Citizens of a country who live in fear sometime react to that fear by resorting to violence. Violence has been committed on both sides and is not the answer. I agree with both writers that education opens doors to opportunities for African Americans, however, I also feel that the past is important to creating a future of unity in America. Hate exists in the minds of white and black Americans and the only way it can be concured is through unconditional love. Men must learn to love one another or we are doomed to The Fire Next Time and the self-destruction of mankind. When both black and white men begin to understand themselves the color line will disappear.


Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time, Random House Inc., New York, 1962.

Frederick, Douglass. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Dover Publications, Inc, New York, 1995.

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