ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes




Up From Slavery: A Documentary History of Negro Education

Compiled By Rudolph Lewis


The first New York African Free School opened its doors in 1877. School No. 2 is shown here



South Carolina Prohibits the Teaching of Slaves to Write 1740


And whereas, the having of slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all and every person or persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach, or cause any slave or slaves to be taught, to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons, shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds current money.  

David J. McCord, The Statutes at Large of South Carolina, VII, 413

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Sundry Citizens of Savannah, Georgia, Petition Mayor and Aldermen

for a Place of Worship for Slaves in that City, 1790


The petition of sundry of the citizens humbly sheweth–

That the Negroes and Slaves, by the assistance of many of the Friends of religion in Savannah, in different parts of the State, and from in the state of So. Carolina, at some expence & trouble, have erected a meeting House, and have been regularly supplied with a Pastor, extreamly well adapted to their capacities and situations, and who is better qualified to instruct them in the duties of their states then any other person would be, though of greater Abilities–

The influence of vital religion on the human Heart, in every rank and situation of life, and invariable tendency, in proportion to its operation, is to subdue the turbulent passions-promote a spirit of meekness & moderation–A contentment with the lot and situation–A resignation to the will of Providence, as ordering & directing all the events of this life by unerring wisdom and for the most positive good of the creature–

That ever since the society has been established it has been a standing rule to admit none who have not only the Approbation but the recommendation of their Masters for their good morals & faithful behaviour-as individuals and a Society, they have been eminent for their orderly conduct at the place of their meeting-for their meek–and inoffensive carriage towards, the Citizens–for their submission & obedient behaviour to their Masters & Mistresses. From the strict discipline that is kept up, if we may judge from the past, there is the most rational grounds for insuring the same peaceable & quiet behaviour in future–

Your Petitioners, from personal knowledge, are fully satisfied that there are many instances in the City and Neighborhood of Savannah of bad and evil disposed Negroes & Slaves, who have been detected in their villainies, and it seemed out of the power of the several punishment to deter them from a repetition of their crimes; but since their becoming members of Andrew’s Society, and their attendance on his preaching have been entirely reclaimed; they have given the highest proofs of the happy tendency of religion in the humblest situation, on the smallest capacities, and of some desperately wicked, and notorious for almost every vice, becoming the most valuable & trusty slaves their Masters have in their possession–

From the irreproachable character their Pastor has long maintained together with his Deacons & Elders, they have deservedly great influence over this society. Their being under the inspection of one of the most numerous Denominations in America. The evidence they have long given in their daily walk and conversation in their jives and characters, of the purity & the excellency of the Doctrines they possess. The desire they have to assemble is to get good, to become better slaves & better Christians–

It would seem that a Society from such motives, and regulated by such principals, could never interrupt the peace of the City–If your Petitioners might be permitted to express their own thoughts, from these facts in opposition to the suspicions which some people may seem to harbor-that if this society should be permitted to Assemble themselves for the purpose of Religious worship, they will pervert the privilege for base ends–for disorder & Confusion–and to give unnecessary alarms to the Citizens, are altogether groundless.

Besides if there should be any disorder brooding from this quarter, their Pastors, Deacons, and leading members would be the first to receive and the best to depend upon, for every information–So that from motives of policy it would be the highest wisdom, to attach rather than alienate the interest of the leading members, & they would be found to be usefull & valuable instruments in the hands of the Honble. Council, in cases of real emergency–

It has been hinted by some of the friends, in favour of the prohibition, that the Doors of the different Churches in the City should be opened to them-This would be impracticable for it is known that when they are assembled in large numbers, from constitutional peculiarities, they are extremely disagreeable to every audience. There seems therefore no other alternative, but, either, to permit them to assemble at their own house, and in their own way, or entirely deprive them the privilege of attending public worship.

This we presume the Honble. Council would not do. Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that a society of Christians, that have walked hitherto with so much order and decorum, who have been so eminently exemplary by their inoffensive lives & Conversations, and have given such ample testimony of their purity, & the influence of the doctrines they profess may no longer be deprived of the privilege of worshiping the God of their existance, according to the dictates of their consciences and in their own way. And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray &c &c-


Reverend James M. Simms, The First Colored Baptist Church in North America (Savannah, Ga., 1888), pp.26-29.

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The Permission of the Sundry Citizens of Savannah Is Granted, 1790

Savannah 19th March 1790.

In as much as I deem it inconsistent with the Spirit and principles of the Christian Religion that any Set of People under the Sun Should be debarred exercising that Religion in the way they best understand it, and in the manner best fitted to their Capacities and Situations, when Conducted with that Decorum and decency which becometh good Christians; And it appearing that a Great Number of the Most respectable Citizens in Savannah have Signed a recommendation in favor of the bearer Andrew and his Society that they should be permitted to assemble and preach in the Meeting house built by them for that purpose at Yamacraw, so that their Meetings were Confined to Sunday between Sun Rise and Sun Set; And as the Corporation have heretofore declined Acting on a Petition preferred to them for their Sanction, and it resting more particularly with the officers of the Militia–

I do hereby give unto the Said Andrew as Pastor, and to his Elders and Society, my full approbation to meet and perform Divine Worship, in the Meeting-house at Yamacraw, on the Sabbath day, between Sun Rise and Sun Set, so long as they Conduct themselves with due decency and order; and that the persons attending thereon have a pass from their masters or Mistresses for that purpose; And I do Recommend to the officers Commanding Companies in the first Battalion, to give their Sanction for the above purpose, and that they will Cause an inspection as often, and at Such times, as they may Deem Necessary, in order that no abuse of this indulgence may take place.

D. B. Mitchell, Major.

               1st Batallion C R–

Joseph Roberts

James Box Young

John Moore

Geo. Throop

James Robertson

Francis Doyle


Chapter VI. “The Instruction of Negroes.” In Edgar W. Knight.. A Documentary History of Education in the South before 1860. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1953

Chapter 10 “Up From Slavery: Educational and other Rights of Negroes.” In Edgar W. Knight and Clifton L. Hall. Readings in American Educational History. New York Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1951.

Many states had laws prohibiting the education of blacks; here black youngsters are turned away at the school door

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color.

There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 10 January 2012




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