Accounts of Runaway Slaves

Runaway slaves were expected to provide details of their experiences while in bondage, emphasizing how they suffered at the mercy of cruel masters. They were expected to talk about the will to free themselves and the propaganda of weapons. Their intentions to write personal accounts about slavery experience sometimes conflicted with those of white abolitionists who urged them to use known formulas and conventions while writing. These abolitionists wanted to add their endorsements to the narrations through introductions and prefaces. Narrators needed to balance their personal accounts and needs of white abolitionists; in addition, most of them did not know how to read and write.

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Frederick Douglass provided an indication of his motivation to escape from slavery. He felt that he did not have an identity and he needed to retrieve it. He was a household servant before he was sold to a slave broker. Douglass says that he had been robbed of his family and community. Only an escape would indicate manhood, bring freedom and enable him to regain his identity. He did not feel regret for escaping. In fact, he would fight to death for his freedom. He thought of Southern whites as hypocritical and ruthless. He also thought that the Underground Railroad was a disorganized patchwork that could not free slaves or provide them with sufficient shelter. It was also found mostly in the North.

Southern whites supported slavery since slaves worked in their plantations. Northern whites did not need any slaves. Some of them were against it and they helped slaves escape. Southern whites felt that African-Americans were not equal to them, that they deserved to be enslaved. They lied about work conditions, arguing that they were favorable. They also argued that freedom for slaves would lead to widespread unemployment, eventually resulting in uprisings and anarchy. Northern whites supported open discrimination of African-Americans. African-Americans would not have become part of the mainstream culture in either North or South at that time; on the one hand, some whites in the North supported racial discrimination, while the South was totally unfavorable.

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