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Celebrating Black History Month: The Power of Literacy and the Price for Freedom

By: JLG Marketing | February 22, 2023 |

This February, the JLG team is honoring black culture by recognizing the voices of black authors. Black History Month is a time to reflect upon the history of African Americans and how better to do that than through the exploration of literature? For instance, did you know that the abolition of slavery and importance of literacy education go hand in hand? Enslaved Africans and African Americans used their reading and writing skills to win and defend their freedom. Read on to learn more about the ways in which literacy helped to end slavery in the United States and how we can continue to empower diverse voices in our book collections.  

BONUS: Take a sneak peek at our current titles featuring black authors and themes down below! 

Literacy Laws: The Alabama Slave Code of 1833 

Starting in the 17th century, people from Africa were kidnapped, roughly transported to the Americas, and were forced into slavery. Enslaved people were treated as less than people, working on plantations and answering their master’s every word. They had no freedoms or rights, including any type of access to education. In 1831, Nat Turner, an enslaved man, launched a rebellion where he and his men killed fifty-five white people. Fearing that enslaved people would continue to revolt against their oppressors or organize protest groups if they had the necessary resources, the Alabama Slave Code of 1833 was passed. This law prohibited the teaching of spelling, reading, or writing to any enslaved person, therefore limiting their education and exposure to abolitionist movements. While this law was meant to further oppress enslaved people, they kept learning in secret, passing their wisdom on in quiet meetings or listening outside of schools where their white masters learned. Enslaved people understood that knowledge was power, but most times, it was too difficult to access.  

Abolitionist Writings  

To expose the harsh truths of slavery, abolitionists published several types of anti-slavery literature like newspapers, books, poems, pamphlets, sermons, and songs. While some enslaved people could read, most were illiterate and relied on others to translate various writings or to write down their own stories. Famous slave narratives like Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass or Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave helped give a voice to the black community (up until this point in history, black voices had been excluded from literature). Many readers were troubled by these writings and felt inspired to help in the fight against slavery. Enslaved people realized the power of their words and eventually held public speaking lectures to share their stories for large audiences. Once these stories expanded in popularity, they could not be stopped and thus neither did the demands to end slavery.  

Literature After the Emancipation Proclamation 

Both enslaved people and white people alike knew that literacy was the foundation of freedom; once enslaved people could write, they could record birth certificates, forge freedom papers, or widely publish narratives that accurately depicted the cruelty of slavery. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863— which stated that all slaves should be freed—former enslaved people found that access to literature and learning was still unequal; freedom was slow spreading in some states and social segregation only worsened over time. To combat this inequality, many newly freed African Americans became teachers, army soldiers, and prominent members of their churches where they empowered their communities by educating them. Black people understood the power of literacy and continued to fight for their education and the freedom that came with it.  


While Black History Month is ceremonially recognized in February, we believe that black voices and history should be amplified every day of the year; that is why our editorial team strives to curate books that include culturally diverse authors, inclusive themes, and content that is representative of all communities. Take a look at our current titles - they are all available to add to your membership box! 




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