Amplify Family Letters
The texts in this unit focus on Americans’ experiences during slavery and the Civil War. In particular, in the two slave narratives, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, former slaves recount the violence, oppression, and insulting language they and their fellow slaves experienced. Students may want to discuss their reaction to these disturbing accounts. Remind students that these are heavy subjects and you expect them to be mature enough to treat the subject matter and their fellow classmates with respect.
Douglass is very careful with how he uses language within his narrative; for example, he freely and deliberately quotes the brutal and dehumanizing language used by the slaveowners toward enslaved people, while avoiding such offensive language within the narrative portion of his writing. However, students and teachers often notice that the N-word is printed in complete form within this text, while other offensive terms have been censored (for example, note the way offensive terms are printed in this slave owner’s quote, reported by Douglass in Chapter 1: "Now, you d——d b—h, I'll learn you how to disobey my orders!"). Amplify has not edited the language in Douglass’s published account; the censorship of these particular terms was done in the original publication of Douglass’s Narrative in 1845. It can be an interesting teachable moment to discuss with students why publishers in 1845 would censor the terms in the quote above, while not censoring the N-word.
In Lesson 3 of Sub-unit 2, students will read excerpts from a pro-slavery speech that John C. Calhoun made to Congress in 1837. Calhoun’s racist ideas can be upsetting to students, so plan to offer support and provide opportunities for students to express their feelings. It can be helpful to explain why we read this text: Examining Calhoun’s rhetoric provides insight into the social and historical context for Douglass’s Narrative and shows us why his writing was so necessary. At the end of the lesson, students will get to use Douglass's words to argue against Calhoun.
NOTE: Many historians now advocate replacing the terms "slave" and "master" with words like "enslaved" and "slave holder" or "slaveowner" in order to highlight the humanity of those victimized by the practice of slavery. Amplify supports the thoughtful analysis of words and their responsible use, and so we have adopted this usage throughout the Liberty & Equality unit (unless doing so would interfere with the meaning Douglass intends). While some students may experience initial confusion over the differences between Douglass's language and that used in instruction, discussing these differences can help them understand the ways in which language changes over time, and the power of words to shape and reshape society.