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Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, African Americans have been posing the question “What is Freedom?”

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Meghan Manhatton 2742369 Multicultural Am. Lit. Sec.06 Essay #1 Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, African Americans have been posing the question "What is Freedom?" As time progressed, and as African American culture grew and changed, the answer to this question became more highly developed. The definition of freedom for the early 20th century social activist W.E.B. Du Bois was much more refined and exacting than the definition for Fredrick Douglass, a slave and abolitionist in the early 19th century. Fredrick Douglass wrote his 1845 publication Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass in an effort to convince his Northern white audience of the humanity of African American slaves in the South. He believes that the key to freedom is to convince whites that blacks are men, created in the image of god and capable of the same thoughts and emotions as their white counterparts. In his narrative, Douglass shows his audience "how a man [is] made a slave" (Douglass 39), showing that the slaves are born men, but that the system of the South turns them into slaves. ...read more.


Alberry Alston Whitman, a poet born into slavery, wrote about his definition of freedom in the late 19th century. In dismay of the lack of real progress made in the rights of African Americans during Reconstruction, Whitman writes that "Freedom's real and intrinsic costs" are "[f]ree schools, free press, free speech and equal laws" (Sherman 32). In other words, freedom means legal and social equality: "free" or unsegregated public schools, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, two rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and, most importantly, equality under the law, also guaranteed under the Constitution. Freedom of press and speech, and legal equality, despite having been expanded to include African Americans just after the Civil War, were not practiced in much of America during Whitman's time. Whitman calls for "[a] common country and a common cause" (Sherman 32), desiring to bring together the North and South under a banner of freedom and equality. He points out that without equality "[f]reedom is an empty name,/[a]nd war-worn glory is an empty shame" (Sherman 32). Whitman believes that freedom comes from equality. ...read more.


For Du Bois, freedom is the possibility "for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face" (Du Bois 3). Du Bois' freedom entails that the American Negro be able to be himself, be able to reconcile the Negro and the American in him without feeling the hatred and oppression of American people. Throughout United States history, African Americans have struggled to define and gain freedom. As African Americans individually, and as a culture, caught glimpses of freedom through the chains of slavery and oppression, they desired more, and modified their definition of freedom and their goals. The freedom Douglass felt when learning to read, and his abolitionist sentiments as a result of feeling this freedom, was simpler in some ways than Du Bois' multi-faceted plans to change the entire cultural, psychological and political landscape of America after his own acquirement of knowledge. Du Bois' definition and his plan of action covered many aspects that were not as obvious to the average person as emancipation was. Though the definition of freedom had been modified a great deal as culture and circumstances changed, it has still remained the main focus of African American culture and politics. ...read more.

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