Examples of Slave Anti-Literacy Laws

Georgia, Louisiana and Missouri

5/5/20231 min read

Of Savannah, a newspaper wrote in 1818, “[t]he city has passed an ordinance, by which any person that teaches any person of colour, slave or free, to read or write, or causes such persons to be so taught, is subjected to a fine . . . and every person of colour who shall keep a school to teach reading or writing is subject to a fine or to be imprisoned ten days and whipped thirty-nine lashes.”

Georgia, in 1829, made it unlawful for whites, slaves and free blacks to teach a slave or a free black “to read or write, either written or printed characters.” Louisiana, in 1830, made it unlawful to teach a slave “to read or write.”

Other states took years to pass anti-literacy laws; Missouri passed one in 1847, in the midst of anti-abolitionist frenzy. The law made it unlawful to “keep or teach” a school “for the instruction of Negroes or mulattoes.”