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Band of Brothers in History and Literature

Frederick Douglass - Band of Brothers

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. He never knew for certain who his father was, but it was strongly suspected that he was the master of his mother, Captain Aaron Anthony. When Captain Anthony died Douglass was transferred to the Auld family. He would become educated, in flagrant violation of the law, by Sophia Auld his mistress, much against the will of Hugh Auld, her husband. Mr. Auld was of the opinion that an education would only make the slave long for freedom. In this notion Hugh Auld was proved correct.

Frederick DouglassDouglass escaped from bondage and went North by train using the papers of a free black sailor. Ending up in New Bedford, Massachusetts he began to get involved in community and political activities. He especially agitated for freedom and dignity of the slaves.

In 1845 he published a book about his experiences as a slave. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave became a best seller of the time and is frequently read today. It is an erudite and inside look at what it means to be a slave. Within the work Douglass makes a reference to a "band of brothers".

It is not uncommon to charge slaves with great treachery toward each other, and to believe them incapable of confiding in each other; but I must say, that I never loved, esteemed, or confided in men, more than I did in these. They were as true as steel, and no band of brothers could have been more loving. There were no mean advantages taken of each other, as is sometimes the case where slaves are situated as we were; no tattling; no giving each other bad names to Mr. Freeland; and no elevating one at the expense of the other.

Although he does not call the group of slaves a "band of brothers" per se, he does make the argument that they all exhibited the best qualities of what the ideal represented to him, specifically a fierce loyalty toward each other coupled with a fierce love born of common suffering. Of course, both of these themes are inherent in the metaphor. The only question is how widely does he apply it? It is easy to see he is talking about a particular set of slaves, yet he wants us to understand that the metaphor applies across the entire spectrum of slaves, contradicting the naysayers referenced at the beginning of the paragraph.

In a truly American fashion we see how the individual bravery, loyalty, suffering and dignity of each individual builds to create a force greater even than the sum of its parts.

Douglass would travel Europe, Canada and the United States lecturing and agitating for freedom and dignity for the politically oppressed. He was one of the best known figures of the age as well as a lightening rod of controversy. Toward the end of his life he married a white woman, which caused a fire-storm even within the ranks of his own family which saw his new marriage as a betrayal to the memory of his deceased previous wife.

He would die of a massive heart attack at his home in Washington, D.C.

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