Race, Labor, and Literacy in a Slaveholding City

in Schooling Citizens

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780226542492
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226542515 | DOI:
Race, Labor, and Literacy in a Slaveholding City

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This chapter examines why, for the most part, white resistance to African American education did not materialize in Baltimore by analyzing the relationship among race, labor, and literacy. To do so, it looks at three distinct kinds of sources — apprenticeship contracts, help-wanted advertisements, and census schedules — that illustrate, individually and collectively, how white dependence on free black labor within the context of slavery inadvertently created an atmosphere conducive to African American literacy. The city's African Americans valued vocational and literary instruction not only for the social status they signified but also for the economic benefit they might provide to themselves and their children. This chapter shows that the particular structure of Baltimore's labor market, reliant upon free black workers kept in check by slavery, fostered an environment that proved to be a boon to African American literacy. Even when working-class whites did not want to work alongside African Americans, they could do nothing to alter the arrangement owing to insufficient social or economic power.

Keywords: Baltimore; education; African Americans; whites; labor; race; literacy; slavery; apprenticeship contracts; help-wanted advertisements

Chapter.  9825 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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