African-Americans have a long history of racial discrimination in America. Their rights, as well as identities, were degraded for over 400 years during slavery. Even after the Union won the American Civil War and slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, African-Americans still experienced racial discrimination and were denied their civil rights due to laws such as segregation and Jim Crow. What’s amazing is that even while enduring these hardships, many strong and powerful African-Americans have risen and shared their personal stories. Among these people are Frederick Douglass, a former slave who struggled to gain freedom as well as Malcolm X, a former civil rights activist. In ‘Learning to Read and Write’ by Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X’s ‘Homemade Education,’ the authors share their autobiographies on their educational journeys to physical and mental freedom.
Even though Frederick Douglass and Malcolm are two different people who lived in different centuries, they both possess similar aspects in their essays. For instance, Douglass, a slave (Douglass, 2017. P. 133) and Malcolm X, a prisoner, both faced educational barriers. It was their need to learn and the unconventional methods they used to attain their education that set them apart them from the norm and helped them breakthrough the barriers and achieve an education.
When comparing ‘Learning to Read and Write’ by Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X’s ‘Homemade Education,’ one can identify some similar themes. For instance, Douglass talks about rising above the obstacles of learning to read and write since “education and slavery” are not synonymic concepts (Douglass, 2017, p. 135). This extract is about the adversity associated with getting an education as a slave. Although it was illegal for slaves to read and write, he still managed to learn how to read and write secretly to protect himself and people around him from the possible punishment. Comparatively, when Malcolm X was in prison, during “lights out” he would sit at the door of his cell and use the light from the corridor to read secretly and jump in bed and pretend to be sleeping when the night guards approached his cell.
The similarity, in this case, is evidenced by what the two had to do secretly to create time and space for learning. Douglass would also take bread to the local white boys to barter for knowledge, which was highly a greater trade according to Douglass. Malcolm X’s “Homemade Education: is basically about how he became “knowledgeable and transformed” through self-education.
The difference in the two narratives is the level of hardship and challenges each faced to learn. Douglass’ hardships were much bigger than Malcolm X’s and this is evidenced in several ways. Douglass being a slave, all odds were against him compared to Malcolm X, whose opportunities were only limited by society (Sirc, 1994, p. 60). Moreover, Douglass was only given an inch, the alphabet, which he utilized to create an educational foundation. He applied bizarre tactics to promote his learning, while Malcolm X was provided with an adequate supply of books and literature to assist him in advancing his knowledge.
In addition, Douglass had no educational foundation, while Malcolm X attended school up to 8th grade, but then lost interest when his teacher scornfully dismissed his ambitions to study law. While in prison, he rekindles his desire to learn and began to copy words from the dictionary, write on a paper and read them (Sirc, 1994, p. 75). Significantly, these two narratives provide examples of how challenging it was to learn for a African-American man. From these stories, readers can appreciate the power of education. It is the power of education that advances political and social changes.
According to Frederick Douglass, the ability to read is related to freedom as it is a flight from ‘mental darkness’ (Douglass, 2017, p. 135) and this relates to Malcolm X’s expressions about the exact feeling of being free after getting an education. From the two writers, it is clear that education can enable individuals to escape from mental imprisonment as it helps break the chains of illiteracy and opens up a wealth of opportunities. Indeed, learning to read and write opens your eyes and mind to a completely new life. The general view of these authors makes them comparable. They both hold the opinion that education open doors for liberation, and words are the perfect keys to unlock the chains and acquire an amazing education that will give you the power to transform society. This belief is in conformity with Nelson Mandela’s quote that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” from his book “Long Walks to Freedom.”
Considering the words of John Bunn, “There’s no greater feeling than me feeling like I’m existing for a purpose, and this is what gives my life purpose right now. Through my nightmare, I found my dream,” both Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X went through the adversities just to get an education and obtain mental and physical freedom. The authors realized they had a purpose, and it was their obligation to work hard to liberate others from the atrocities of racism and inequality.