Many coaxers present in modern day society were not available in Douglass’ time. The paper trail each of us leaves behind on a daily basis did not exist in Douglass’ day, and certainly not for a slave or even someone who was poor, such as a freed black man. This makes memory much more important in Douglass’ perception of himself, and his story as he related it.
For most people, even whites back in Douglass’ time, some sort of document existed to verify when and where that person was born. Douglass relied on memory, other people’s memories in fact, to verify this most basic of personal details. He begins his narrative by stating that “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot country, Maryland.” He opens with this assertion not only because it is logical, but also to immediately enforce his own humanity upon his presumably white reader. He goes on to discuss how he doesn’t even know his own name, and how this was a common tactic by slave holders to strip slaves of their humanity.
In reading about this tactic, we are reminded of the importance of memory in all facets of our existence. If the slaves couldn’t remember their African cultural heritage, their languange, indeed their very freedom as a people, then this made them much easier to hold in bondage. By stripping them of their memory, you strip them of their identity. Once they have no identity, slave-holders simply created one for them by giving them Christian names and telling them they are meant by God to be faithful servants. It is for this reason that African customs and languages were banned, as well as educating slaves.
Another example of this stripping of memory and identity is the seperation of families, particularly mothers from children. If you have no memory of your mother, your identity will be even more barren of role models of any kind, save for the slave master.
These tactics and strategies used by slave-owners were brutal but effective. Studying them now serves to remind us of the importance of memory in the identity of not only an individual, but a people. It reminds us that even something we take for granted, such as memory, can be taken from us and is a freedom we should all be thankful for.