“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” This wise saying was made by famed 19th-century African-American author and orator. Frederick Douglass as he began his speech on Monday, August 3, 1857, in Canandaigua, NY, on the 23rd anniversary of the West India Emancipation. He reminded everyone of the British efforts toward emancipation as well as the crucial role of the West Indian slaves in their own freedom struggle.
This saying has greater meaning when we learn what Douglass himself struggled through. His mother died when he was 10, his father was suspected to be a plantation owner since he was moved into the main house. He was sent to work as a servant in a white household in Baltimore. The owner’s wife defied the law against teaching slaves how to read and taught young Frederick the alphabet. When she was forbidden to continue, Frederick learned to read on his own.
He was then transferred to a less hospitable owner who had a reputation as a “slave-breaker.” But the abuse did not break 16-year-old Frederick emotionally or psychologically. Douglass eventually escaped with the help of a free black woman and traveled by train to New York to the house of a slavery abolitionist. There, the woman who helped him escape came and they were married.
They settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts in a thriving free black community. They joined a church and regularly attended abolitionist meetings. At one meeting, Douglass was asked to tell his story. It was so moving, that he was asked to speak at other meetings. Once during a lecture tour through the Midwest, Douglass was chased and beaten by an angry mob before being rescued by a local Quaker family.
But opposition to his message continued and he finally had to sail overseas to escape capture. With many supporters who attended his lectures there, he was able to raise enough money to purchase his legal freedom and return to the USA a free man. In 1872, he was the first black man ever nominated for vice president of the United States on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
Just like Douglass, many of us were once slaves, but slaves to sin. When we heard the Word about the emancipation effort of Jesus of Nazareth, we wanted to be free. But it didn’t come easy. There were struggles both within and without. Sometimes, we even tried to escape but it always caught up with us. But once we learn that the price for our freedom had been paid by Jesus, the Son of God, and once we accepted this payment by faith, we became free in Christ. But then, the struggles continued on a different level.
Too often we try to hide what we went through, but just like Frederick Douglass, we should never be afraid to tell our story to inspire others, because we too have learned on an emotional and spiritual level, if there is no struggle, there is no progress. – Dr. Robert R Seyda