Slavery and Fredrick Douglas

Today in class I introduced Fredrick Douglas and his piece called My Bondage and My Freedom. In this piece Fredrick talked about his experience as a slave.  I was curious to know what my students thought about slavery and those that owned slaves. I gave the class a worksheet to complete and a few of the questions I asked was:

Can a person that owns slaves be a good person?

If the government makes killing and stealing legal, would the people who steal and kill be considered good people?

Since slavery was legal were the people that owned slaves good people

Student Responses:

One student told me that slavery was legal thus the people were not bad people they were just doing what they were told to do.

Another student said that if something is culturally acceptable then its okay to do and those people are not bad people.

Another student said that slavery was not that bad and if you give them food and clothes you are being a good person.

I then asked the class :If no one was forced to own a slave, does this change how you feel about those who chose to own a slave?

Student Responses:

One student said, “No, because it was slavery and everyone had slaves back then and as long as you feed the slave and give them food, then you are being a good person.”

Another student said, “Simply buying a slave does not make you a bad person, its a bad decision but does not make you a bad person.  You only are taking their freedom and not everyone was whipped.”

Another class’s responses:

Student:As long as you feed the slave and give them clothes then it shows that you love the slave.

Another Student: In the movie the Purge, killing was legal but just because something is legal does not make that action good or right.  This is why I say that a slave owner cannot be a good person.

Different class: I asked the class why was it important for the slave to be kept illiterate.

Student: So that they would not be able to find out how to be free.

I asked the class what information would need to be kept from the slave so that they would stay slaves and not revolt.

Student: Information about everything must be kept from the slave, which is why they should not be allowed to read and write.

Student: So that the slave cannot find free slave states.

I asked the class if a slave owner was nice and they fed and clothed the slave does that mean the slave owner is a good person.

Student: Yes, since they fed and clothed the slave they are a good person.

A different Black Student: No, you can’t own other humans and be a good person.

Another class

Black Student: Its not bad to own a slave.  You can buy them so that someone else that is mean and will whip them, will not be able to do that.

Teacher: Wouldn’t buying slaves for any reason be bad and be perpetuating the institution of slavery?

Black Student : No, this does not make the person bad.  You can teach them how to read and write and give them clothes.

A Different Black Student: Buying slaves is wrong no matter what.

Black Student: What about dogs, are people bad humans because they own dogs?

Teacher: Dogs are not humans and we are talking about humans.

Blacks Student: Dogs and humans are the same because they have emotions.

Teacher: Dogs and humans are not the same:  (Then the bell rang)

Caucasian Student: Why are the African American students defending slavery and the slave masters?

Teacher: I have no clue why but that is a great point.

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