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Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick

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Whether they were getting beaten, thrown in jail, or facing other race related hardships, the very influential Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass faced substantial prejudice in their lifetimes. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass were both advocates for social and political reform regarding the treatment of African Americans within the United States. King was the biggest leader in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s and 60’s, with the goal of ending racial segregation. He utilized nonviolent protests and social commentaries. A hundred years prior to King was Frederick Douglass, another civil rights leader, who was born to a slave mother in the South during the 1830’s. Equally inspiring and brilliant, it is not surprising that these two men had similar themes throughout their works, specifically Douglass’ own narrative, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass1, and King’s A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,2 “The Purpose of Education,”3 I Have a Dream4, and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.5 Douglass’ narrative tells the story of his life, living the harsh life of a slave and educating himself, until he was able to escape. The narrative is full of upsetting imagery and important lessons and themes. King’s I Have a Dream, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and most of his other speeches and essays are social commentaries, critiquing the racist United States that he lived in. King’s works were all seen during the Civil Rights movement, which was a struggle for justice by African Americans in the United States to gain equal rights and treatment. The themes and ideas in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass are similar to the themes and ideas presented by Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement, which both create effective social commentary.

Education

Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass were both revolutionary in the fight for equal treatment of black people. Frederick Douglass lived as a slave in the South and used his experiences to provide knowledge about the struggles he faced while living as a slave. King also experienced a lot of racism and segregation while pioneering the civil rights movement in the United States. Frederick Douglass’ most popular and influential piece is his autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which contains many themes and ideas that are reflected in King’s works. The first theme in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass reminiscent of ideas of Martin Luther King Jr. is that education is important.

        One idea agreed upon by both Douglass and King that is seen in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is that knowledge can lead to freedom and change. In King’s speech, A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart, he exclaims that, “Science gives man knowledge, which is power,”6 which is very similar to Douglass’ writing that he would gladly exchange bread for “the bread of knowledge”.7 Douglass is referring to the bread that he would steal and give to little white children, and in exchange they would teach him how to read and write. By gaining the power of knowing how to read and write, Douglass was able to escape slavery quicker than if he couldn’t read. King reflects this idea by stating that knowledge is power, because the power of knowledge helped Douglass become a free man. Both Douglass and King appreciate and stand by the idea that knowledge leads to change, and in the case of Frederick Douglass, freedom. Another opinion Martin Luther King Jr. reflects is that knowledge is necessary for positive reform to occur. He states that, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”8 This was in King’s speech “The Purpose of Education”, where he was alluding to the fact that being quiet and complacent will change nothing. If a person is not striving to change anything, then nothing will change at all. However, if a person gains knowledge that sheds light onto injustice, then they will be motivated to make a difference. This is redolent of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in which thousands of slaves were not aware of the injustice going on or how to get away from it without being killed, and because they were not given a proper education, they didn’t have the opportunity to make a difference. Although Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t alive while slavery was legal, he still advocated for something similar to the abolition of slavery, which was the equal treatment of black people. By educating people on injustices, King had the goal of ending the prejudice he saw all around him. These two activists are connected in their ideas that knowledge can lead to freedom and change.

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