chapter  Chapter 4
31 Pages

Equity in Education

ByBarbara L. Graham

During the antebellum era, Southern states prohibited the education of enslaved and free blacks. Teaching slaves to read and write was considered a threat to the system of slavery. Southern states enacted criminal statutes that imposed imprisonment and fines on anyone, including whites, who taught slaves or free blacks to read or write. In 1830, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted a statute which was typical among Southern states that prohibited literacy among the enslaved:

An Act to Prevent All Persons from Teaching Slaves to Read or Write, the Use of Figures Excepted

Whereas the teaching of slaves to read and write, has a tendency to excite dissatisfaction in their minds and to produce insurrection and rebellion, to the manifest injury of the citizens of this State: Therefore,

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That any free person, who shall hereafter teach, or attempt to teach, any slave within this State to read or write, the use of figures excepted, or shall give or sell to such slaves any books or pamphlets, shall be liable to indictment in any court of record in the State having jurisdiction thereof; and upon conviction, shall, at the discretion of the court, if a white man or woman, be fined not less than one hundred dollars, nor more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned; and if a free person of colour, shall be fined, imprisoned, or whipped, at the discretion of the court, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes, nor less than twenty lashes.

II. Be it further enacted, That if any slave shall hereafter teach, or attempt to teach, any other slave to read or write, the use of figures excepted, he or she may be carried before any justice of the peace, and on conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to receive thirty-nine lashes on his or her bare back. 1