"Up From Slavery: Literacy Enlightened-.
The institution of slavery is a peculiar one indeed. While serving to oppress a race, culture and identity, slavery produced a set of ideals about the acquisition of knowledge that to this day keep our race, culture and identity in constant struggle. The greatest success of slavery was to keep blacks from reading. If they could not read, the acquisition of knowledge was virtually impossible. In one of today's popular rap lyrics, the lyricist known as Nas illuminates one of the major themes running through Douglass' narrative, "If the truth is told, the youth can grow, learn to survive, until we gain control - The institution of slavery was by definition an institution of illiteracy. .
The ability to read was freedom through knowledge or consciousness of our situation. If slaves became consciousness of their circumstances, to understand that they were humans would have led to full-scale resistance. Frederick Douglass' narrative serves to identify how freedom and liberty are defined through the acquisition of knowledge and the power of reading. To gain knowledge is to have a sense of self. The power of slave owners was in their ability to make slaves believe that they had no self worth; their identity was enveloped in their master's identity. The preservation of this belief was dependent on the illiteracy of our race.
Frederick Douglass opens his narrative by highlighting how the slavery kept him from being able to identify his date of birth. He says, "I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant (p.339)."" This statement is a direct testimony to the fact that slave owners did not want their slaves to develop a sense of self.