When I Can Read My Title Clear: Literacy, Slavery and Religion in the Antebellum South

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9780872498716: When I Can Read My Title Clear: Literacy, Slavery and Religion in the Antebellum South

a distinctive volume revealing yet again America's often-contradictory dance with freedom and the concepts of equality and inalienable rights. -- Chicago Tribune

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From Library Journal:

For slaves, as for whites, literacy promised self-worth and access to scripture. Literacy meant liberation of mind and soul and sometimes even person. Literate slaves had status, often as preachers. Slaves learned to read and write by wit and deception, but also because some Christian whites taught them as part of missionary work on plantations or as a prelude to African colonization. Northern Bible and tract societies urged "Bibles for slaves" in the 1850s, but Southern resistance to both Northern interference and slave literacy generally limited that appeal. Still, says historian Cornelius, 10 percent of the slaves were literate. The assertion of widespread slave literacy is more speculation than fact, for it is impossible to gauge functional literacy. But Cornelius does show that the blacks' drive for education was well underway before emancipation. She draws on a variety of primary sources (slave narratives, slaveholders' diaries, church records, etc.) to support her thesis. This is a very useful book on a neglected topic. Recommended for university libraries.
- Randall Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Publishers Weekly:

Cornelius, professor of history at Eastern Illinois University, shows in an academic study that encouragement from certain plantation owners, clandestine schools run by free blacks, and churches and missionary groups sponsoring Bible-reading for blacks were responsible for a considerably higher literacy level among slaves than is generally acknowledged. Diaries of abolitionists and freed slaves, and church records quoted here testify to the blacks' thirst for knowledge as a key to self-determination and emancipation. This desire, along with religious revivals of the early 1800s, alerted slave-owners to the danger of revolt and led to harsher slave codes regarding literacy. The author concludes with post-Civil War efforts to satisfy the newly freed slaves' "greed for letters." Addressing the related impact of literacy and religion among slaves, the book makes a contribution to scholarship. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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