This paper compares the portrayal of oppression in Frederick Douglass" slave narrative to Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".
While Douglass does not use the term "oppression", he affords the reader multiple examples of white oppression of the African- American people. From the very beginning of his family life (his grandmother and other immediate family members), his very livelihood depended upon the wants and wishes of his owners. African-Americans were controlled in every aspect of life, from being able to have food to eat, to having clothing to wear, to be unable to learn how to read. Douglass relates how his grandmother had faithfully served her master from youth to old age. Yet, upon her master's death, she was just another slave to be sold and bought by another master without any regard to her service or her needs and feelings. She was, as Douglass stated, nevertheless "left a slave - a slave for life - a slave in the hands of strangers". Slaves were so oppressed that they were fearful of even voicing their feelings. Also, Douglass noted "killing a slave or any colored person, in Talbot County, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community". It was in this context that slaves were silent, reluctant even to try to escape, and almost fatalistic in their life expectations. "A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master - to do as he is told to do" was the basic philosophy of the time. The general consensus was that the white man's power was to "enslave the black man.".
Douglass began his journey into freedom through his initiation into learning. From learning the basic letters and words, he began seeing freedom as something he had a right to. As Douglass stated, "The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers".
White oppression was generated by the thought of black slaves as property. Owners could do as they wished for the property (slaves) belonged to them.