Frederick Douglass

Mack Rights Reviews Prof Tuesday’s Awesome Adventures in History Book Three

Posted by The Frederick Douglass Foundation of NY

Mack Rights Reviews Professor Tuesday’s Awesome Adventures in History Book Three - The Underground Railroad
By Mack Rights
As Black History Month 2013 nears its end, I want to recommend a book for young children who need a little real history in regards to the Underground Railroad.  For this reason, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Professor Tuesday’s Awesome Adventures in History -  Book Three: The Underground Railroad, by Jeffery L. Schatzer. While the target audience is young children and adolescents, it’s also a book you’ll enjoy reading to your children.
Instead of presenting history as a list of boring events that children can’t relate to, Professor Tuesday has developed a time-travel teleporter that enables children to see events first hand.  One of the extra-enthusiastic children who are lucky enough to go on these adventures is a young black girl named Tamika.  She has a special interest in discovering how her people were freed from slavery and ultimately ended up in the Northern part of America.
On the first Tuesday that these adventurers meet- because the teleporter only works on Tuesdays of course- the professor takes Tamika and Jesse to meet our very own Frederick Douglass in London during the 1840s.  He took them there because there were no slaves in London during this period of time, and it would be safer because they wouldn’t have to worry about the slave catchers.
Being the standup guy that he was, Frederick Douglass was happy to spend some time with these young history seekers.  Upon shaking Tamika’s hand, Mr. Douglass’ first observation was, “Your hands aren’t cut and calloused, and your eyes don’t show the sorrow or sadness of slavery” (p. 29).
And with that, Frederick Douglass granted their wish that he tell them about his time as a slave.  Much of it is a short recap of Douglass’ first autobiography Narrative of the Life.  He spoke about his mother having to walk twelve miles in the middle of the night to see him as a baby and then walk the twelve miles again to get back to her own plantation before sunrise.  He spoke about getting clothing, made of “coarse fiber,” once a year.  He elaborated by mentioning that if the clothes wear out, “children may go naked until the following year, even in the cold of winter” (p. 32).
Then he spoke about the beatings and the whippings, especially his time with Mr. Covey, who was in charge of breaking young Frederick in order to make him more obedient.  The story of Mr. Covey ended when the young Frederick Douglass refused to allow Mr. Covey to beat him any more.  They fought and fought until “Mr. Covey gave up.  From that point forward, he never laid a hand on me.  My battle against Mr. Covey inspired me to find a way to escape slavery once and for all” (p. 37).
Then he told them the famed story about how he learned to read and write.  This of course begins with Mrs. Auld teaching him to read until her husband caught her and chastised her for doing so.  At that point, Mrs. Auld was adamantly against Frederick Douglass’ quest for knowledge.  Once she’d introduced him to the idea of seeking knowledge though, there was no quenching his thirst.  He’d get his hands on any piece of written material he could.  Some kids would steal cookies, but he was stealing anything with writing.
Then he learned to write by watching ship builders draw letters on boards while running errands:

By watching the carpenter, I learned how to write several different letters.  Once I practiced writing those letters, I looked around for other boys who knew how to write.  When I found a group of boys playing in the alley, I challenged them to a contest, by bragging that I knew how to write as well as they did.  That would begin my contest of learning.  I would start out the contest by writing the letters I knew in the dirt.  The other boys would share their letter-writing skills.  Little by little, I learned how to write all the letters of the alphabet (p. 40).
He’d practice and practice, and eventually, he learned to write.  Now, don’t fear that reading this book will eliminate your necessity to read Frederick Douglass’ autobiographies.  This book will only serve as further motivation to read his writings.  It doesn’t tell you how well he learned to write, which is something you must consult his actual writings to discover.  And while I highlighted the story above, this small bit of it doesn’t fully bring it to life like Frederick Douglass does in his autobiography.  When reading this story in his autobiography, I immediately thought that the young Frederick Douglass had the real-life genius of Tom Sawyer when he tricked the other boys into whitewashing the fence.  But the young Frederick Douglass was obviously using his devious little genius for something more productive.
After telling the story about how he escaped slavery, Douglass gave our young history-seeking adventurers one last thing to think about: “Education changed my life.  Reading succeeded in opening my eyes to the terrible life of slavery.  Writing allowed me to express myself and my beliefs with clarity.  Knowledge brings freedom” (p. 46).
With that, our three time-travelling education seekers travelled back to their own time to digest what they’d just learned over the next week.  This, along with Professor Tuesday’s assignments to do research in between the Tuesday time-travel adventures, would prepare Jesse and Tamika for their quest to learn about the Underground Railroad in the coming weeks.
However, because the coming adventures actually involved visiting places and times in America that were dangerous, Professor Tuesday developed a remote control car with a live-feed camera so that they could witness history first hand on the computer screen.  They smartly dressed the car as a skunk so that no one from the past would bother it.
Knowing that we live in a litigious society, Professor Tuesday couldn’t risk taking his students back in time when they might get hurt or killed, so he used the remote control skunk, or the “critter cam,” as they called it.
They went on to learn about Susan B. Anthony, President John Adams (who was against slavery), George DeBaptiste, Levi and Catherine Coffin (Levi was known as “president of the Underground Railroad), Laura Haviland, Eliza Harris, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dr. Nathan M. Thomas, John Rankin, Erastus Hussey, Josiah Osborn, Zachariah Shugart, Bill Jones, Stephen Bogue, Sheriff Barak Mead, Henry Buckner, Judge Geddes, Captain John Lowry, Seymour Finney, John Brown, and of course Sojourner Truth, as well as those I’ve missed.
In a country where we too often get biased revisionist history from government “education” institutions for Black History Month, this is a good example of something that isn’t biased.  It often seems like the purpose of Black History Month is to get blacks to hate whites and to get whites to despise themselves for being white.  This only seems to sew more racial discontent into society so that those who make money off of the discontent continue to have a reason to exist.  This book’s not political at all.
It’s about two children seeing the abomination of slavery for what it is and then seeing that there were many in the country who, because slavery was morally wrong, risked their lives and fortunes to help bring about its end.
During these adventures, Tamika has trouble with history and wants to quit the adventure.  After mentioning her nightmares she says to her friend Jesse: “You don’t understand.  It’s just too hard for me to see and think about how horrible slavery was.  The people we are seeing could be my relatives … my family.  It scares me just thinking about it” (p. 113).
This perfectly illustrates the truth about history.  Sometimes, it is downright awful to read about.  Nevertheless, we should indeed be required to learn it because, if we don’t learn it, we’ll be doomed to repeat it- like they always say.  And even though Tamika struggles coming to terms with the past, her white friend Jesse is there to help her find the strength to do so.  While he understands that he can’t relate to it like she does, he does have this to say:  “You are right.  I probably don’t understand like you do.  But it’s important to study history.  Miss Pepper says that ‘history tends to repeat itself.’  If that’s true, we’ve got to make sure nothing like slavery happens again.  We have to learn about it” (p. 113).
From the mouths of babes.  Buy this book, and read it to your children.  Even if you can’t get it by the end of Black History Month, don’t wait until next February to read it.  It’s a free country – read it in March.  No one’s preventing you from reading this book any time you want.  But there are people who would prefer that you not read this book.  They’re the ones making money off the perpetuation of racial strife.  As Frederick Douglass said, “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”  Fight the Power – read this book.

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