On August 21, 1831, enslaved Virginian Nat Turner led a bloody revolt, which changed the course of American history. The uprising in Southampton County led to the killing of an estimated 55 white people, resulting in execution of some 55 Black people and the beating of hundreds of others by white mobs. 

    While the rebellion only lasted about 24 hours, it prompted a renewed wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting enslaved people's movement, assembly—and education.

    At the same time, abolitionists saw an opening for the argument that the system of slavery was untenable. Lawmakers in Virginia argued over which path to take. A vote to free slaves through gradual emancipation gained support with the state’s leaders. “It was a legitimate debate,” says Patrick Breen , author of The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt . It was “not obvious that it wasn’t going to pass.”

    Nat Turner (1800-1831) accosted in the forest by a man hunting for Black people seeking freedom.

    Ultimately, however, Virginia and other southern states opted to keep slavery in place and tighten control of African Americans’ lives, including their literacy. In the antebellum South, it's estimated that only 10 percent  of enslaved people were literate. For many enslavers, even this rate was too high. As Clarence Lusane , a professor of political science at Howard University notes, there was a growing belief that “an educated enslaved person was a dangerous person.”

    The 1831 revolt confirmed this view, which had been gaining steam for years. Turner was a passionate preacher guided by spiritual visions. His ability to read the Bible allowed him to find stories of divine support for fights against injustice, explains Sarah Roth , professor of history at Meredith College and creator of The Nat Turner Project . 

    Enslavers and their clergy controlled the Biblical narrative among illiterate enslaved people, but educated Black Americans, like Turner, saw past this “sanitized” version, which didn’t call slavery into question.

    Abolitionists Agitate Through Written Word

    African American literacy wasn’t just problematic to enslavers because of the potential for illuminating Biblical readings. “Anti-literacy laws were written in response to the rise of abolitionism in the north,” says Breen. One of the most threatening abolitionists of the time was Black New Englander David Walker. From 1829-1830, he distributed the  Appeal , a pamphlet calling for uprisings to end slavery. Black sailors brought Walker’s text, surreptitiously sewn into the seams of clothes, to the South.

    Nat Turner's bible on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., 2017. 

    Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty Images

    There’s no proof that Turner, himself, read the Appeal and was inspired by it, according to Edward Rugemer , history professor at Yale University. However, there’s “a lot of evidence that abolitionist writings directly influenced” Caribbean uprisings around this time, he notes. If written “abolitionist agitation was shaping the nature of slave resistance” in the islands, American enslavers believed that it could influence enslaved populations stateside.

    Scroll to Continue

    Adding to such fears was William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper, The Liberator , which began publishing on January 1, 1831. Although it was edited by Garrison, who was described as a “radical” white abolitionist, Rugemer argues it was largely seen as a “Black newspaper,” since most of its readers were African Americans, along with a “few radical whites who believed in antislavery and antiracism.” Southern enslavers saw this paper as another example of outside agitation spread through the written word.

    Literacy Threatens Justification of Slavery

    Black Americans’ literacy also threatened a major justification of slavery—that Black people were “less than human, permanently illiterate and dumb,” Lusane says. “That gets disproven when African Americans were educated, and undermines the logic of the system.”

    States fighting to hold on to slavery began tightening literacy laws in the early 1830s. In April 1831, Virginia declared that any meetings to teach free African Americans to read or write was illegal. New codes also outlawed teaching enslaved people.

    Other southern states passed similarly strict anti-literacy laws around this time. In 1833, an Alabama law asserted that “any person or persons who shall attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, to spell, read, or write, shall upon conviction thereof of indictment be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars.” (The fine would be the equivalent of about $7,600 in today’s dollars.)

    Despite the consequences, many enslaved people continued to learn to read. And numerous enslavers may have supported this. Many enslaved people did “sophisticated work, including management of operations,” which required literacy, explains Rugemer. Barring Black Americans from reading and writing wasn’t a practical strategy for anyone. 

    And it was too late.

    After Civil War, Schools Spring Up 

    Antislavery ideas had already spread, largely through the written word. As Roth points out, “Literacy promotes thought and raises consciousness. It helps you to get outside of your own cultural constraints and think about things from a totally different angle.”

    Freed Black people learning to read with white teachers in school circa 1860. 

    Fotosearch/Getty Images

    The view that slavery was wrong and should be ended was reinforced through written texts. Soon after Turner’s rebellion, in 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation declared that all slaves in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

    When U.S. army units began arriving in Virginia in 1861, members of the freed Black community quickly began opening up schools for African Americans, staffed with Black teachers, as well as white Northerners. Following the end of the Civil War, literacy rates climbed steadily among Black Americans, rising from 20 percent in 1870 to nearly 70 percent by 1910, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy .

    READ MORE: Slavery in America

    Why were slaves not allowed to be taught to read?
    Fearing that black literacy would prove a threat to the slave system -- which relied on slaves' dependence on masters -- whites in many colonies instituted laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and making it a crime for others to teach them. more
    Does Costco allow overtime?
    For the most part, Costco must pay overtime to non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a week as long as they are not excluded by the FLSA. more
    Does England allow felons?
    Those seeking permission to enter the UK will normally be refused if they have previously been convicted of a criminal offence punishable by at least 12 months imprisonment. more
    What animal taught Airbending?
    Sky Bison. The Air Nomads first learned to Airbend by watching the sky bison fly through the air using their tails to navigate through the wind. more
    Which states allow euthanasia?
    As of June 2021, the only jurisdictions that allow this procedure are Oregon, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Washington, Maine, Colorado, New Jersey, California, and Vermont. Euthanasia can be voluntary or non-voluntary. In voluntary cases, the person consents to the ending of their life. more
    How can you tell if someone has read your text without read receipts?
    Go to Chat features, Text Messages, or Conversations. If this option isn't on the first page that displays, tap More Settings. Turn on (or turn off) the Read Receipts, Send Read Receipts, or Request Receipt toggle switches, depending on your phone and what you want to do. more
    Who taught slaves to read?
    By “Christianizing,” Godwyn meant teaching slaves to read. As early as the 1660s, reading had become a fundamental part of catechizing new parishioners in England. more
    Can I read a message without the sender knowing that I read it?
    On Android Long-press the chat you want to read without letting the other person know. Then, click on Ignore messages. Tap Ignore again to confirm. The message will be moved to the requests section. more
    Does DoorDash allow PayPal?
    1. DoorDash. DoorDash doesn't accept PayPal in terms of linking your accounts together, but there's a workaround for it. DoorDash accepts digital gift cards, which can help offset the high delivery fees, so you can buy these through DoorDash or PayPal. more
    How many books can you read if you read 30 minutes a day?
    If you spend 30 minutes reading per day, you will read 10 to 11 books per year. And that's a good milestone you can set for yourself. more
    Will Coinbase allow shorting?
    Shorting Crypto On Coinbase Margin trading is no longer available on Coinbase but you can start short selling without leverage using futures contracts. So once you have signed up for an account, identify a downward trend on one of the dozens of coins available and then take your position. more

    Source: www.history.com

    You may be interested in...

    What is the proper way to clean chicken?

    Why are hot dogs bad for pregnancy?

    How many steps are in a 8 hour shift?

    How do I kiss my girlfriend for the first time?

    Do closed accounts affect credit?

    Why do you need financial management?

    How many jaguarundi are there?

    Are there any free NFT?

    What is water+ city?

    What state has the cheapest gas in the United States?

    What is the most attractive feature of a woman?

    Are Beagle dogs stubborn?

    Is canned tuna good for type 2 diabetes?

    What burns belly fat the quickest?

    How do you bid on someone?

    About Privacy Contact
    ©2022 REPOKIT