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Literacy in the South

In the United States today, being literate—having the ability to interact with, understand, and produce written texts—is considered a fundamental right of all people. Americans expect their political and economic leaders to work to increase literacy so that everyone can enjoy the benefits that literacy can bring. Americans would be shocked to hear public proclamations that children should not be allowed to attend school, or that books should be limited in circulation. Yet, in the nineteenth-century South, it was commonplace to hear public figures talk about the need to prevent children from learning to read or write and to limit access to written materials to adults.

It was more than mere talk, however. Southern politicians used a variety of methods to limit literacy and its ...

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