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Education and Liberation (Black History Series)

Updated: Feb 23

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” American slaveholders knew this. Slave rebellions were a primary cause for a rise of anti-literacy laws in America. Anti-Literacy Laws were passed in Missouri in 1847, prohibiting anyone of African Ancestry to learn to read and all other persons from teaching them. 

Yet despite the risk, many, many of the enslaved secretly learned to read. Some were taught by religious leaders who offered reading lessons alongside (or instead of) religious instruction. Some listened carefully as white children were given lessons. Some learned to read from their parents or other community members. Some courageous, innovative communities developed secret spaces for teaching and learning, with hidden materials and warning systems for protection. In fact, opportunities for literacy were often present on plantations, as well as communities made up of smaller farms and homes. 

The earliest Black Missourians only obtained education through risk and resistance, lawlessness. Activism.  


National Park Service (Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site)

“The Development of the Negro Public School System in Missouri” (Dissertation from University of Chicago by Henry S. Williams in 1917)

Look for more Black History Series posts to come.



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