Education, Literacy, and Gender in Antebellum Rural Alabama


  • Matthew West


"Education, Literacy, and Gender in Antebellum Rural Alabama" utilizes both nineteenth century slave autobiographies, as well as twentieth century Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviews of ex-slaves, to analyze literacy within the slave experience. The essay explores the ability to read and write through the themes of religion, race, gender, occupation, and education, focusing on a case study of rural Alabama. Like slavery itself, literacy among enslaved persons was not a monolithic phenomenon; rather, it varied significantly across region and even within a single household, with domestic, female slaves being taught to read significantly more often than their outdoor, male counterparts.