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How Literacy Turned a Highly effective Weapon within the Struggle to Finish Slavery


On August 21, 1831, enslaved Virginian Nat Turner led a bloody revolt, which modified the course of American historical past. The rebellion in Southampton County led to the killing of an estimated 55 white folks, leading to execution of some 55 black folks and the beating of a whole lot of others by white mobs. 

Whereas the rise up solely lasted about 24 hours, it prompted a renewed wave of oppressive laws prohibiting enslaved folks’s motion, meeting—and training.

On the identical time, abolitionists noticed a gap for the argument that the system of slavery was untenable. Lawmakers in Virginia argued over which path to take. A vote to free slaves via gradual emancipation gained assist with the state’s leaders. “It was a respectable debate,” says Patrick Breen, creator of The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New Historical past of the Nat Turner Revolt. It was “not apparent that it wasn’t going to go.”

In the end, nonetheless, Virginia and different southern states opted to maintain slavery in place and tighten management of African Individuals’ lives, together with their literacy. Within the antebellum South, it is estimated that solely 10 p.c of enslaved folks had been literate. For a lot of enslavers, even this charge was too excessive. As Clarence Lusane, a professor of political science at Howard College notes, there was a rising perception that “an informed enslaved particular person was a harmful particular person.”

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