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Musings While in the State of Virginia

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

Looking out the window while traveling a road on what seems to be a lonely side of Virginia. This moment captures me in such deep thought. Ironically, I am awash with feelings of gratitude, courage, and hope but also sadness, grief, pique.

Only a short distance eastward, out of the very window through which I gaze is the area where the most impactful rebellion against the institution of American slavery occurred led by a Christian slave preacher named Nat Turner. Albeit there were approximately 212 slave revolts that occurred on American soil, none other made an impression on America as a nation than that of the one led by Turner. Some scholars have even suggested that this is one of the many reasons the American Civil War occurred. Newspapers, councils, and talk all across the nation were filled with degrading epithets about African slaves regarding how they should never again be taught to read or write. On the other hand, others, who were known in the South at that time as “notorious abolitionists,” understood that the United States had to grapple with its very own hypocrisy due to what had been written earlier in its very own Constitution—in contrast with what it was daily putting into practice.

Though considered ”notorious,” the abolitionists used Scripture as its source for argument, felt it reasonable to risk their lives at doing that which would create independence in the African. The simple objective would be to teach the African to read and write. It would do the reader well to note that this was covertly done even in a number of places throughout the antebellum South. This is all prior to the American Civil War, and the Freedmen’s Bureau. At any rate, there was indeed a concern of literacy among enslaved Africans. In order to quell any other slave rebellion of this magnitude, South Carolina led the nation in placing a ban upon the teaching of literacy to the enslaved African. Other states soon followed. This would put even a place such as Montgomery, AL on high alert since it had a free moving, literate slave in the River Region by the name of Caesar Blackwell who was so articulate and skillful at oration that even Caucasian Baptist parishioners would often make note of his oratorical prowess. He also boasted a personal library. Nevertheless, this was a powerful and influential African man whose mouth was controlled by his owners, Caucasian Baptists of Montgomery, AL. This group was so sensitive to the civil unrest that the Virginian slave preacher Nat Turner wreaked upon the nation that it is revealed from an annual Alabama Baptist Convention meeting at that time that Caesar Blackwell must have his mouth silenced since he is “the property of this association.” These words not only applied to the silencing of his mouth but also to his annual salary and any other monies that would cover his expenses as a slave preacher. In spite of revisiting the topic internally as a religious entity within the state of Alabama, a statute had apparently been adopted by the colonies that once again caused Blackwell to be restricted “by the laws of our country.”

America knew then as it knows now that literacy is that which gives power to an individual. That individual thereby affects her group for the better that it may properly care for itself and then be readily available to offer help to other groups. However, as we take a look today at the literacy—also the general academic—landscape of the descendants of Africans who were brought to America, we find it littered with failing schools many of which have a considerable number of students who are currently unable to syntactically decline a basic English sentence. It is public knowledge that through numerous ordinances efforts were made during the period of desegregation to under-fund or neglect schools that would overtime become majority Black American. Nevertheless, since this has occurred for such long period of time, many are unsure about what to do with the issues of literacy that are so prevalent among schools that are majority Black American. In addition, such longstanding neglect has caused the issue to become so complex that placing blame solely upon racism as the only element of culpability is implausible. Regardless, of how one addresses the issue of literacy it is still the massive elephant in the room that may not be properly handled. Unfortunately, as we have seen for a few decades now, this lack of literacy has led to the control of many bodies in our state prison systems.

We shall rest this topic for now. But it’s interesting to see what a simple ride through the state of Virginia could produce.

*This article was produced in the state of Virginia by Montgomery Deep History.

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