Dialogue Between a Master and Slave

Listen Siblings, I come in peace,

“I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.” Frederick Douglass in his Autobiography

If nothing else, the “Dialogue Between Master and Slave” is a powerful example of eloquence. Eloquence being one of the most neglected subjects among African people today. “Maroon and Build For Self,” the ABS’ collection of prosaics and poetics, akin to this dialogue, introduces to a people neglected of excellent literature a template of eloquence and wisdom. This same combination raised Frederick Douglass to being widely regarded as the greatest Orator in American History.

I speak to Brothers and Sisters on the streets. Oftentimes, the conversations are wanting for wisdom. Discussing Black Self-Respect, I’d hear “Only Jesus can change a man’s heart”; Black Self-Hatred, “How can a man hate himself?”; Black Pride, “We should be proud of humanity!”; African anything, “We should think of Black people first”; and (the most popular error) Black Organization, “I do not need to organize.” These are all quips spoken quickly at appropriate times but they are not from our Wisdom Traditions and reflect a deep Mis-Education that we must more actively combat.

The Dialogue between Master and Slave has wisdom within. Dissected is the difference between power and rights, the compensation for stolen liberty, the idea of unemployment, the obligation due ‘tepid enslavement,’ the conditions for slave resistance, the appreciation of justice from the unjust and the nature of the social bond between “Master and Slave.” This dialogue inspired “The Allegory of the Headless Chicken,” it questions Malcolm X’s House Negro depiction and it alerts the reader to the idea of Organization, mainly with the phrase of “Favourable Conditions” which the reader can better understand learning “The Allegory of Nat Turner.

But it’s not only an excellent read. It’s a call to action. You will benefit from the reading, certainly: Frederick Douglass benefited. But do not forsake the lesson: Organize. I want you to see in the African Blood Siblings a noble institution attempting to do for our race what will give our descendants more than we inherited: African Blood Siblings Community Centers. Please Write. Please get Subscribers. Please Subscribe yourself. Ours remains a straightforward task: Undoing the Injustices wrought onto our Ancestors and Siblings. Please tell yourself you are worthy of such an undertaking. Subscribe, share, love.

Dialogue Between a Master and Slave
As read in “The Columbian Orator”

Master: Now, villain! what have you to say for this second attempt to run away? Is there any punishment that you do not deserve?
Slave: I well know that nothing I can say will avail. I submit to my fate.
Master: But you are not a base fellow, a hardened and ungrateful rascal?
Slave: I am a slave. That is answer enough.
Master: I am not content with that answer. I thought I discerned in you some tokens of a mind superiour to your condition. I treated you accordingly. You have been comfortably fed and lodged, not overworked, and attended with the most humane care when you were sick. And is this the return?
Slave: Since you condescend to talk with me, as man to man, I will reply. What have you done, what can you do for me, that will compensate for the liberty which you have taken away?
Master: I did not take it away. You were a slave when I fairly purchased you.
Slave: Did I give my consent to my purchase?
Master: You had no consent to give. You had already lost the right of disposing of yourself.
Slave: I had lost the power, but how the right? I was treacherously kidnapped in my own country, when following an honest occupation. I was put in chains, sold to one of your countrymen, carried by force on board his ship, brought hither, and exposed to sale like a beast in the market, where you bought me. What step in all this progress of violence and injustice can give a right? Was it in the villain who stole me, in the slave-merchant who tempted him to do so, or in you who encouraged the slave-merchant to bring his cargo of human cattle to cultivate your lands?
Master: It is in the order of Providence that one man should become subservient to another. It ever has been so, and ever will be. I found the custom, and did not make it.
Slave: You cannot but be sensible, that the robber who puts a pistol to your breast may make just the same plea. Providence gives him a power over your life and property; it gave my enemies a power over my liberty. But it has also given me legs to escape with; and what should prevent me from using them? Nay, what should restrain me from retaliating the wrongs I have suffered, if a favourable occasion should offer?
Master: Gratitutde! I repeat, gratitude! Have I not endeavoured ever since I possessed you to alleviate your misfortunes by kind treatment; and does that confer no obligation? Consider how much worse your condition might have been under another master.
Slave: You have done nothing for me more than for your working cattle. Are they not well fed and tended? do you work them harder than your slaves? is not the rule of treating both designed only for your own advantages? You treat both your men and beast slaves better than some of your neighbours, because you are more prudent and wealthy than they.
Master: You might add, more humane too.
Slave: Humane! Does it deserve that appelation to keep your fellow-men in forced subjection, deprived of all exercise of their free will, liable to all the injuries that your own caprice, or the brutality of your overseers, may heap on them, and devoted, soul and body, only to your pleasure and emolument? Can gratitude take place between creatures in such a state, and the tyrant who holds them in it? Look at these limbs; are they not those of a man? Think that I have the spirit of a man too.
Master: But it was my intention not only to make your life tolerably comfortable at present, but to provide for you in your old age.
Slave: Alas! is a life like mine, torn from country, friends, and all I held dear, and compelled to toil under the burning sun for a master, worth thinking about for old age? No; the sooner it ends, the sooner I shall obtain that relief for which my soul pants.
Master: Is it impossible, then, to hold you by any ties but those of constraint and severity?
Slave: it is impossible to make one, who has felt the value of freedom, acquiesce in being a slave.
Master: Suppose I were to restore you to your liberty, would you reckon that a favour?
Slave: The greatest; for although it would only be undoing a wrong, I know too well how few among mankind are capable of sacrificing interest to justice, not to prize the exertion when it is made.
Master: I do it, then; be free.
Slave: Now I am indeed your servant, though not your slave. And as the first return I can make for your kindness, I will tell you freely the condition in which you live. You are surrounded with implacable foes, who long for a safe opportunity to revenge upon you and the other planters all the miseries they have endured. The more generous their natures, the more indignant they feel against that cruel injustice which has dragged them hither, and doomed them to perpetual servitude. You can rely on no kindness on your part, to soften the obduracy of their resentment. You have reduced them to the state of brute beasts; and if they have not the stupidity of beasts of burden, they must have the ferocity of beasts of prey. Superior force alone can give you security. As soon as that fails, you are at the mercy of the merciless. Such is the social bond between master and slave!

4 thoughts on “Dialogue Between a Master and Slave

  1. Very good post,brother. It really shows how strong the bond is between the master and the slave. I wish more of our people could see that we are still servants to these people. We have to take the blinders off.

    1. Interesting take Brother.

      I read it a little differently. The dialogue was written during slavery very likely by a European but very definitely for Europeans. It’s a happy ending in the perspective of a White abolitionist. More, the end may only be a literary device to introduce the bond between the Master and Slave as one that is hostile.

      The servant remark was odd; but I do not know whether it should be read as ‘continued servitude.’

      It’s an interesting take.


    2. “Historically, revolutions are bloody. Oh yes they are. They have never had a blood-less revolution, or a non-violent revolution. You don’t have a revolution in which you love your enemy, and you don’t have a revolution in which you are begging the system of exploitation to integrate you into it. Revolutions overturn systems. Revolutions destroy systems. But America is in a unique position. She’s the only country in history in a position actually to become involved in a blood-less revolution. The Russian revolution was bloody; Chinese revolution was bloody; French revolution was bloody; Cuban revolution was bloody; and there was nothing more bloody then the American Revolution. But today this country can become involved in a revolution that won’t take bloodshed. All she’s got to do is give the black man in this country everything that’s due him. Everything. We don’t care anything about your atomic bomb. It’s useless because other countries have atomic bombs. When two or three different countries have atomic bombs, nobody can use them, so it means that the white man today is without a weapon. If you want some action, you gotta come on down to Earth. And there’s more black people on Earth than there are white people on Earth.” — Malcolm X, 1964 http://malcolmxfiles.blogspot.com/

      1. “In the failure to see this and the advocacy of the destruction of the whole economic order to right social wrong we see again the tendency of the Negro to look to some force from without to do for him what he must learn to do for himself. The Negro needs to become radical, and the race will never amount to anything until it does become so, but this radicalism should come from within. The Negro will be very foolish to resort to extreme measures in behalf of foreign movements before he learns to suffer and die to right his own wrongs. There is no movement in the world-working especially for the Negro. He must learn to do this for himself or be exterminated just as the American Indian has faced his doom in the setting sun.”

        — Carter G. Woodson

        In our African tradition, we have the proverb “Leave him in error who loves his error.” Different races have different Truths ergo different races have different Errors. The Proverb can thus mean “Racial Separation.” As long as we disobey this Proverb, our exploitation is inevitable. Because the European Race loves “White Supremacy” and there’s no sense in fighting to change his affection.

        Edit: Probably more fitting, an earlier quotation:

        History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning. Even if the expected social upheaval comes, the Negro will be better prepared to take care of himself in the subsequent reconstruction if he develops the power to ascend to a position higher up after the radically democratic people will have recovered from their revelry in an impossible Utopia.

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