The issues of racism and discrimination have been evident across the world and throughout history. Most thoughts about these matters are concentrated around the 18th and 19th centuries when slavery was at its peak. The narrative written by William and Ellen Craft (1860) describes an arduous and treacherous journey taken by themselves to escape the ever-gripping bonds of slavery. Sometimes lost or overlooked, this passage elaborates on many of the everyday oppressive nature that goes hand-in-hand with being an African American during this time period. Craft explains how he is strictly seen as a piece of land or an ‘item’ of his master, permanently under the thumb of another human being. This seems to be a recurring theme during this time period, as similarly stated by an article regarding antebellum slavery. This resource states that “Enslaved African Americans could never forget their status as property, no matter how well their owners treated them“. Obvious divisions in social class and economic status also further perpetuate the ability for the whites to dominate over other ‘out-groups’. Thus, African Americans facing this white superiority had minimal chances of experiencing any of the God given rights he or she was entitled. But simply being white doesn’t necessarily guarantee power and entitlement, as Craft reports.
Many children who were white (as well as his wife who was the daughter of her white master and had fair complexion) were stripped from their families or taken when separated and sold into slavery. This is an important inclusion in the passage as it adds to the overall understanding of the internal identities of the time period. These superficially can be seen as differences in race and class, as this is the most evident divide in the social standings of the time period. However, the inclusion of some whites into slavery convolutes this seemingly simple divide of power and creates different levels of oppression. Craft sees himself as a Black man, one of God, and his master’s chattel or item. He explains how he is also assumed to be just that, an item, and to wait hand and foot on white men. His role, as well as the role of others in a similar position, was to facilitate the lives of whites at the cost of his own and his freedom.
Contradicting the stereotypical norm of the era, his account includes many sources and poems that further describe his perception of his reality and maltreatment. His vivid descriptions of the conditions he experienced creates a window for those to look in. Using first and second-hand accounts of such incidents, his credibility strengthened, and gave his story even more insight. This conflicts the social norm because blacks at that time were thought to be uneducated and unworthy of the ability to be educated. Evidence for this lies in an account of a woman, Mrs. Douglass, attempting to teach her slave to read the bible. The penalty for this was imprisonment for 30 days. Such unimaginable laws existed for the “best interest” of the slaves, from the perspective of whites. In this perspective, inhumane laws were written, justifying this indecency toward slaves, stating, “robbery, rape, and murder are not crimes when committed by a white upon a coloured person.” The existence of such laws and mindsets further fortify the importance of the Craft’s endeavor to liberty. Craft’s narrative of his escape embodies the inglorious identity of slaves and provides a powerful response to the cruel society in which he lived, breathing air into the embers of freedom and equality.