A provocative examination of literacy in the American South before emancipation, countering the long-standing stereotype of the South’s oral tradition
Schweiger complicates our understanding of literacy in the American South in the decades just prior to the Civil War by showing that rural people had access to a remarkable variety of things to read. Drawing on the writings of four young women who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Schweiger shows how free and enslaved people learned to read, and that they wrote and spoke poems, songs, stories, and religious doctrines that were circulated by speech and in print. The assumption that slavery and reading are incompatible—which has its origins in the eighteenth century—has obscured the rich literate tradition at the heart of Southern and American culture.
Beth Barton Schweiger taught for fifteen years at the University of Arkansas. She is the author of
The Gospel Working Up and editor of
Religion in the American South.