“If you teach that nigger…how to read, there will be no keeping him,” Mr. Auld, a slave master, said of Frederick Douglass when he caught his wife teaching a young Douglass how to read. That was in 1845. 170 years later we see the words of Mr. Auld replaying in the actions against 13 year old Jada Williams.
Jada Williams was an 8th grade student attending School #3 in Rochester, New York when she wrote a comparative analysis on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York. In her essay she boldly connects Douglass’ deliberately being refused an education to present day schooling. She observed that her white teachers are in a
“position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom.” – Jada Williams
The school’s reaction was one that would make Douglass’ slave owner proud. The teacher’s began a campaign of harassment and kicked Williams out of class–with hopes of a suspension–ultimately resulting in her parents withdrawing her from the school.
Though Williams was given an award by the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York on the merit that her essay proved she thoroughly understood the autobiography–they also sought to question the school about their actions–Williams’ essay reveals the continued oppression and suppression children of color face in the classroom.
Watch Jada Williams read her essay here:
Read Liz Dwyer thorough examination of this case here: “A 13-Year-Old’s Slavery Analogy Raises Some Uncomfortable Truths in School”