1 Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an
American Slave (1845; reprint, New York: Penguin, 1983), 78–79.
2 Ibid., 82, 86–87.
3 Ibid., 84, 78.
4 Ibid., 119–20.
5 W. E. B. Du Bois quotes Booker T. Washington in Black Reconstruc-
tion in America (New York: Atheneum, 1992), 641.
6 W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; reprint, New York:
Penguin, 1989), 22–23.
7 Studies of slave literacy, including and especially Janet Duitsman Cor-
nelius’s When I Can Read My Title Clear (Columbia: University of
South Carolina Press, 1991), have documented the extent to which,
despite legislation designed to ensure their illiteracy, slave commu-
nities practiced literacy in a variety of ways. These studies confirm, as
the story of Frederick Douglass illustrates, that while many slaves
could not read, those who could often became the painstaking teachers
of basic literacy for those who could not. Like Douglass, some slaves
used their reading and writing skills to facilitate their escape from
slavery; but others looked to the ability to read and write to transform
their lives in more immediate ways and used their literacy to gain
advantages for themselves and their fellow slaves within the institution
of slavery. Taken together, recent studies of literacy and slave commu-
nities have complicated our understanding of the transmission and
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