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Saber and Scroll

Abstract

In 1870, about seventy percent of blacks in the South were illiterate.1 Despite the major setbacks, African Americans strived to develop their own autonomy in a hegemonic society that endowed whites with political, economic, and social power. Blacks developed their independence in a major way: learning how to read and write. Even while enslaved, African Americans yearned for an education, as seen in several slave narratives, but slave owners shuddered at the idea of teaching blacks to read and write. White masters feared that slaves, upon learning to read and write, would become aware of their condition, then organize, and rebel against the slave system. White oppression of blacks did not end with the restriction of education, however. Rather, the intersections of race, education, and gender display slaves’ desire for and endeavors in education. Women and men shared in the effects of oppression and desire for education to fulfill their self-ownership, but each gender went about resisting slavery, learning to read and write, and passing that education along in highly different ways.

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