The Story: Antebellum Slavery

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"My master's oldest son was six months older than I. He went to a day school, and as I had a great desire to learn to read, I prevailed on him to teach me. My mother procured me a spelling-book. (Before Nat Turner's insurrection, a slave in our neighborhood might buy a spelling or hymn-book, but now he cannot.) I got so I could read a little, when my master found it out, and forbad his son to teach me any more. As I had got the start, however, I kept on reading and studying, and from that time till I came away, I always had a book somewhere about me and if I got an opportunity, I would be reading in it. Indeed, I have a book now, which I brought all the way from North Carolina."


James Curry, Person County, NC

Whites reacted to Walker’s Appeal by passing increasingly restrictive slave laws. Nervous leaders in North Carolina passed legislation in 1830 making it illegal to distribute the pamphlet in hopes of quelling Walker's radical ideas about abolishing slavery. Another North Carolina law passed in 1830 made it a crime to teach a slave to read or write. Laws were even extended to restrict the rights of free blacks. An 1835 law prevented free blacks from voting, attending school, or preaching in public.

"The book was then handed out to me, the money taken in return, and I left, feeling very rich with my long-desired treasure. I got out of the store, and looking around to see that no one observed me, I hid my book in my bosom, and hurried on to my work, conscious that a new era in my life was opening upon me through the possession of this book. That consciousness at once awakened new thoughts, purposes, and new hopes--a new life, in fact--in my experience. My mind was excited. The words spoken by James Dixon of the great advantages of learning, made me intensely anxious to learn. I was a slave; and I knew that the whole community was in league to keep the poor slave in ignorance and chains. Yet I longed to be free, and to be able to move the minds of other men by my thoughts. It seemed to me now, that if I could learn to read and write, this learning might--nay, I really thought it would--point out to me the way to freedom, influence, and real, secure happiness."


Thomas H. Jones, New Hanover , N.C.