Frederick Douglass has been an immense role model to all types of people who want to make their lives better. In his biography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he describes his life as a slave, and how he got out of it by "re-making" himself. Douglass educates himself and re-creates who he is throughout his life; so much so that in the end when he gives his speeches, people cannot believe he was ever a slave. This idea that we can "re-create" ourselves no matter where we have come from is one that started with Douglass, but is relevant to all humankind.
In his opening lines, Douglass addresses how the institution of slavery narrows slaves' opportunities for self-knowledge. Slave owners withhold information about slaves' birth dates in order to keep them from developing a unique sense of self. They do not want their slaves to differentiate themselves from their land or farm animals, as Douglass implies when he says that most slaves know how old they are no more than horses do. Likewise, their masters do not acknowledge family ties among slaves. Family relationships would allow slaves to develop a unique sense of self and would encourage alliances among slaves, a serious threat to the slave owner's hold on power.
It was illegal to educate slaves. The enforced institution of illiteracy did the double service of robbing the victim of his voice and of his access to alternative ideas regarding his condition. The slave owner did not want his slaves to know that many Americans saw their bondage as a moral outrage. Nor did he want his slaves to provide first-hand evidence against his prettified picture of slavery, which would give the abolitionists more rhetorical ammunition against him. He wanted to be the center and origin of the "truth" about slavery, both for slaves and for non-slave-owning whites.
Despite this unfortunate truth of the times, Douglass found ways to augment his education.