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Young Frederick

As a child, Frederick Douglass was relocated from a plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland to Baltimore. There he learned how to read and write—first from the wife of his master and then from poor, local immigrant children. This module examines how literacy helped Frederick Douglass consider the possibility of a life beyond slavery. Students will analyze primary sources from the era, and consider discussion prompts for more dialogue and deeper reflection.

Essential Question:
How did literacy provide a “gateway” for Frederick Douglass? Where did the gateway lead?

Thinking Questions:

  • How might Frederick Douglass’s life be different if he had stayed on the plantation on the Eastern Shore?
  • What was Frederick Douglass able to learn by observing others in his new household and city?
  • What strategies did Douglass use to increase his literacy skills?
  • Why did Mr. Auld argue that reading makes enslaved people “unfit for enslavement”?
  • How does “The Columbian Orator" encourage Frederick Douglass' aspirations for freedom?

Analyze the photograph, Isaac & Rosa, slave children from New Orleans.

  • Look closely at the image and make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel.
  • Why do you think this photograph was taken?
  • What do you learn about Issac and Rosa from this photograph?
  • What’s missing from the photograph that you wonder about?
  • What questions do you have about childhood for enslaved children?

Examine the map, General map of the United States, showing the area and extent of the free & slave-holding states.

  • What do you notice first? What size and shape is the map?
  • Why do you think this map was made?
  • What place or places does the map show?
  • Look closely at the key at the bottom of the map. What do you learn about the population of enslaved people in the free states and slave-holding states?
  • How can you tell the difference between free states and slave-holding states on this map?

Analyze the illustration, Baltimore from Federal Hill.

  • Look closely at the illustration and make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel.
  • What do you notice first? What size and shape is the illustration?
  • Why do you think this illustration was made?
  • What place or places does the illustration show?
  • Who do you think was the audience for this illustration?


  • Students will analyze the impact of antebellum reform movements on American politics and society by:
    • Evaluating the impact of social reform movements on temperance, prison, and educational reform.

    • Tracing the evolution, arguments, and impacts of the antebellum women’s movement.

    • Identifying the methods, arguments, and impacts of the abolitionist movement.

  • D2.Civ.6.6-8. Describe the roles of political, civil, and economic organizations in shaping people’s lives.

  • D2.Civ.10.6-8. Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.

  • D2.Civ.14.6-8. Compare historical and contemporary means of changing societies, and promoting the common good.

  • D2.Geo.4.6-8. Explain how cultural patterns and economic decisions influence environments and the daily lives of people in both nearby and distant places.

  • D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.

  • D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.

  • RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

  • RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

  • RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

  • WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.