Quotable Discussions

Welcome to week #2 of “Quotable Discussions”, where we talk about the importance and relevance of reading in today’s society in the context of quotes from well-known folks!
Today’s quote comes to us from Frederick Douglass (circa 1818 - 1895), an escaped slave who went on to lead the abolitionist movement. Born into slavery, he secretly learned to read by watching the white children with whom he had contact and by observing the writings of the men with whom he worked. Having known no other life except slavery, he accepted it without question. Until he learned to read. His exposure to newspapers and political materials armed him with the knowledge that freedom and basic human rights could not exist within the boundaries of slavery.
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."
~ Frederick Douglass

When you learn to read well, and more importantly, CHOOSE to read, you empower yourself. Whether you read books, magazines, newspapers, academic texts, or some of everything, reading gives you knowledge, and knowledge gives you power. For me, this manifests itself in an attitude I’ve developed over the last several years. And the attitude is this: “If there’s something I want to know about, I WILL learn about it.” There are lots of things I don’t know about, but I can read, so I can learn. I can buy a cookbook and learn to prepare new cuisine. I can read a magazine or newspaper and learn about the new health care legislation or the efforts to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf. I can order a travel book and road atlas and plan a vacation to a foreign country. I can read a fiction book about scuba diving and learn about the equipment necessary. And the list could go on and on and on and on. There is nothing I can’t learn, because I can read.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Mr. Douglass’s quote.


  1. The ability to read gives us power to learn, to change, to help, to grow.

    I've helped adults learn to read and watch as they transform. They feel powerful and, in my experience, those people always want to use that power to help others do the same. They are truly free. These are folks that were always nervous when driving because they had to guess at what the traffic signs were saying. A detour could really cause trouble for them. They could only order food from the pictures listed above the McDonalds Checkout. They couldn't read their own birthday cards. Seeing an individual begin to understand the hidden world written in words has been one of the most significant blessings of my life along with helping deliver a baby and bringing refugees from a war torn nation to the US. There's not much quite like it... The experience changes the lives of all those involved. So, so grateful and blessed to have been a part of it.

  2. The ability to read has affected my life in so many ways, the list would be endless. Most of what I know outside my own little sphere of existence I learned from reading. Without reading, I never would have aspired to be a writer.

    I have known people who couldn't read and their world is limited to word of mouth.

  3. Thanks for the comments, ladies! Dana, I can't imagine the excitement of helping an adult learn to read. It's exciting enough watching my kids "catch on". For someone who has lived years without knowing, the excitement must be enormous. And yes, Devon, reading allows us to experience things we never would otherwise. When you're from small-town USA (like you and me!), reading allows us the chance to "travel" outside the realm of our every day experiences.

  4. His quote speaks to me in another way, too. It's not just about the world at large that you can go do anything or learn anything and go do it - you're not trapped. If you can read, you can go anywhere even if you are physically 'trapped'.

    I was always sick as a child but with my books (and writing), I was still free. I may have been stuck in bed, stuck on the couch, stuck inside, but I was never stuck in my head. You can never be trapped in a book.

    I love his quote. It's boundless. I think it covers every possible freedom there is.

    Thanks for sharing this.