The Alphabet as Resistance: Slave Anti-literacy Laws and Laws Against Religion in the Slave South

The history of slavery includes repression by violence, but it also includes day to day control of the minds of the slaves. For, as slavery deepened in the South in the decades before the Civil War, laws and repression deepened also.

One type of law was the slave anti-literacy law - banning literacy among the slaves; other laws were anti-religion - banning gatherings. Enforcing it all were the infamous patrols - local, armed white on horseback, with whips, who themselves owned no slaves.

Could slavery get worse after centuries of it? It did in the slave South in the decades just before the Civil War. This book explores the expansion of slavery during the period, the growth of the mass-labor cotton and sugar plantations, the expulsion of the Native Americans, and the new types of repression. Those new types of repression included new laws that prohibited the teaching of a slave to read or write, under penalty of whippings or worse. Those were anti-literacy laws. Other new types of repression included laws against gatherings - aimed at religious gatherings. Laws requiring slaves to have a pass from the slaveowner or a white person were ancient; they were tightened under the new regime. The laws were enforced by the notorious patrols, made of poorer white men, whose service was always mandatory and often drunken. The book chronicles, often in the voices of the slaves themselves, both the repression and their resistance to it.