Book Review - From Slave to Abolitionist: The Life of William Wells Brown

Book Review - From Slave to Abolitionist: The Life of William Wells Brown

The book titled “From Slave to Abolitionist: The Life of William Wells Brown, narrates a life of former salve, William Wells Brown, and describes his journey to become a “free man.” Brown was born in Kentucky in 1814 to a white man and a slave woman and grew up in Missouri until he became a free man at the age of twenty. Freedom- what does it mean to teach of us? For some, it means freedom from stress, debt sickness or suffering. But for one particular group, it meant freedom from their master, which they had been dreaming for centuries. Those ones, the slaves, were treated as inferior beings, worse than animal in most cases, used for men’s egoism. Although it is considered as intolerable and illegal act today, owning slaves were legal and approved by law back in old days. Being abused by their masters, the slaves were not only denied their own liberty but also their rights to live. Unlike many other salves who worked at plantation in severe condition, Brown worked as a house servant, printer and assistant to the slave trader with whom Brown claimed to have made three trips on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and the New Orleans slave market. When he was traveling with his owner to New Orleans, he managed to escape from slavery with the help from an abolitionist named Wells Brown, whom later Brown adopted the man’s name for appreciation and respect. After his successful escape, he became an abolitionist himself and formed an organization to help other slaves escape to Canada, where slavery is prohibited. In the summer 1834, he met and married Elizabeth Spooner, a free black woman; they had three daughters, one of whom died shortly after birth. In 1836 Brown moved to Buffalo. While he was involved in the activity, he also learned to read and write by himself. Since he expended his works to the point that he began to travel around the world and gave lectures for the Western New York Anti-slavery Society, addressing the audience the argent need to prohibit all the slavery. In addition to lecturing, using the literacy skills he acquired earlier, he started career in literacy. From then on, he wrote and published total six books (Warner 135). He was the author of the first travel, the first play and the first histories written by a Black American. For the great works he accomplished, he is well recognized and prized not only by America but also by Europe. Through out the book, the author conveys to the reader the effort Browns had to overcome for him and the other slaves and his zealous works he had done in order to save his fellows. The book also reveals man’s egoism and contradictions.

The author who Lucille Schulberg Warner was born in New York. She attended Carnegie Institute of Technology and studied drama until she joined the Red Cross. As worker for Red Cross, she lived in Paris and Germany which was occupied buy united Nation. After her returns to home, she became and advertising copywriter and a staff writer for Time-life Books. This book was written by her, but she adapted the original writing of William Wells Brown (Warner 135). The story is based on the true story and as if this were written by the person who experienced it. Also, it makes it easier for readers to understand and sympathize with Brown’s feeling at certain moments. She presents the substance in the manner of first person view, giving readers the feelings.

The good number of the book contracts with his life as slave. The author makes readers think and wonder about men’s egotism and their contradictory life they were leading. At that time, many slave holders were very active religiously and even forcing their salves to participate in worshiping. According to the bible, all man was created in God’s image and was created all equal. Moreover, they were to love each other as they would do to their own body. However, the way those slave holders treated the slave was exactly the opposite of what the Bible says. One white preacher once made this speech to slaves: “Consider that it is not yourself, not the people that you belong to, it is not the men who have brought you to it but it is the will of God who hath made you servants, because no doubt, he knew that condition would best for you in this world and help you the better toward heaven” (Warner 35). Twisted in their thinking, they justified every action they take to the slaves, believing that they have absolute rights to do so. They were only thinking about their own benefits they can gain. To their ears, the cry of mothers who were separated from their children did not reach. Sadly, they had lost the heart of human and allow themselves to transform into evil creatures. The evilness had rooted deep inside people that it took along time before they finally started realizing their cruelty.

Having been treated such a way for nearly twenty years, it must have been very difficult for Brown to imagine a day when whites treats him as a human being with full of respect. In fact he said that when he was being treated as a man by a white family for the first time, he could not find a word to describe it, for it was very emotional to him (Warner 84). It was that moment that he strongly decided to devote rest of his life to abolish slavery. Regardless of risking his own life and the privilege of being a free man, he helped many slaves escape to safe places. For him, it was his will and revenge for his family and his fellow men that he had left America. Also, it was one of the ways for him to atone for helping his master to sell his fellows at New Orleans’s slave market. As mentioned in this book, being an assistant to slave trader was the most painful job he had done. It must have been very heartbreaking for him to watch his fellows being put up for auction and bought to cruel master in right front of him. In fact, it had a great impact on him that he constantly had guilt feeling towards them.

On the other hand it was those bitter memories that always motivated and kept him going despite the difficulties he had to face and overcome. At the late twenty, he taught himself to read and write. Although this was not certainly an easy thing to do a that age, he strongly made up his mind to do it. Amazingly, he never gave up on learning and eventually became a writer for other slaves that were still suffering. He was a free man, yet he never forgotten about his friends in America. The all hard efforts he made were rewarded that he later became a well-known abolitionist. He traveled around the world to give lectures and wrote many books on the issue of slavery. His works were very convincing and appealing that they got many attentions. But he never allowed him to be satisfied with what he had accomplished. Rather, he kept on going his way to promote the freedom of slave. It can be only imagined how he might have felt during at the end of civil war, which left the southern states as slave states.

The author did not include any bias toward certain people or points. She did a great job writing the story impartially for any people with different backgrounds. She could have written the book in a way that would possibly leave readers with hatred toward those slave holders. Though she, along with the experience of brown as a slaver, discusses about the white people who detested slavery and fought hard to abolish its system, proving to the readers that there had always been people who own right heart. She supported a major contention with sufficient historical contexts and information that there were no major confusions to the readers. The writing style is very straight forward that even those who do not have any history knowledge could understand the content easily. The book appears to be very accurate as for the date and descriptions of historical events.

The book is well written and serves as a great supplement to learn more about slavery in details. The author contributed a lot as to informing the readers the historical contents and the state of affairs at the moment. She also did an excellent job in describing the character’s emotion behind the sense faithfully. This made it the book more effectives in learning not only history but also the sentiment of people back in old days. Although slavery is a thing of the past, we as humans needs to learn from that in order not to create such thing in future, when people study the topic, many have a tendency to see it as a mere historical fact. But we all should take the fact seriously and really learn from it, in order not to commit the same fault again.

Warner, Lucille Schulberg. From Slave to Abolitionist: the Life of William Wells Brown. New York: Dial Press, 1976.