Jacob Lawrence Ekphrasis: Frederick Douglass Series

Panel 7. olemarsterauldsaythisthegospeltruththatifyouteachthatniggertoread


Ole Mr. Auld said, if you teach that nigger to read
there be no keeping him, so I became determined to read.

I saved biscuits and jam for the poor white boys, traded a piece of pork
for pencils and paper, or a lesson on cursive or a story read

aloud by someone who knew the correct pronunciation.
Sometimes I’d sing a bit, lull them to nap so I could read

an extra passage or poem. I could feel my stars alter their path,
a grand achievement evolving. To write is to fill my belly; To read,

is a pail of coal I can throw onto a fire deep inside me.
My heart burns through page after page. Read-

ing to the sunrise was not wise, but the risk was what I knew.
Like my mother, I only have a small torch to guide me. When I read,

I re-route her hideous twelve miles. By day, I hide books in holes,
brush the dirt off every night. Most of the time, I am alone, read-

ing to myself. Frederick Douglass, how spoiled you are to have a weapon
of this size. Freedom radiates from my face with each word I read.