About the Holiday
Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14, Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford.
Words Set Me Free
Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James E. Ransome
Born into slavery and separated from his mother in infancy, Frederick Bailey is raised by his Grandmama while his mother works on a separate plantation. When she is able Harriet Bailey walks the 12 miles between plantations to spend a few short hours with her son, watching him sleep before making the long journey back. While Frederick is still a very young child, his mother falls ill and dies. Douglass recalls never seeing his mother’s face in daylight.
At the age of six, Frederick is moved from his Grandmama’s cabin to the plantation house. At eight, he is sent to the master’s brother in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, the master’s wife, Sophia Auld, treats Frederick more like a paid servant then as a slave. When Frederick says he wants to learn how to read and write, she immediately begins teaching him the alphabet. Frederick is always mindful, however, that he may be punished for these lessons, and he has only memorized the letters and a few words before his master puts an end to his education. Angrily, the master explains to his wife, “If you teach him how to read…it would forever unfit him to be a slave.”
These words are perhaps Frederick’s greatest lesson. He never forgets them, and they fuel his resolve to pursue an education. He makes clever use of the few resources he has and slowly learns to read and write. From the newspapers he discovers that the North offers freedom, and Frederick decides to escape. It’s many long years, however, before he can fulfill his dreams. At last, he sees an opportunity to leave the South behind, and using his talent for writing makes his escape a reality.
Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a compelling biography of Frederick Douglass for children in Words Set Me Free. In straightforward language and through first-person point of view, Cline-Ransome reveals the brutal truth of Douglass’s life as a slave and his fight against injustice. As the title suggests, the book focuses on Frederick’s desire to become educated and the obstacles he overcame to succeed. This universally important message continues the work Douglass engaged in long ago.
James Ransome’s stirring paintings realistically highlight pivotal scenes of Frederick’s life, beginning with the tender moments he spends with his mother as a very young child. With an unstinting eye Ransome reveals the hardship and cruelty Frederick endured as a slave. His moving illustrations also demonstrate hope as Frederick, with blossoming intellect, resolves to educate himself and find a means of escape.
Ages 5 and up
Simon & Schuster, New York, 2012 | ISBN 978-1416959038
Learn more about Lesa Cline-Ransome and her books on her website!
Find a gallery of illustration, paintings, drawings, videos, and more on James E. Ransome‘s website!
Black History Month Activity
Frederick Douglass Word Search
Words were so important to Frederick Douglass that he risked everything to learn how to read and write. In this printable Frederick Douglass Word Search Puzzle you will find words about the subject of today’s book. Here’s the Solution