Saturday, April 3, 2021

‘I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave, though I remember on several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door with one of my young mistresses to carry her books. The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study made a deep impression upon me, and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise.’

                   -Booker T. Washington

Wednesday, March 31, 2021



Seeing that huge cargo ship

if that’s what it’s called

in the Suez Canal

makes you realize how

big a world it is 

with all those containers

on board

filled with things

for people.

Like seeing those photos 

from above a coal mine

with all those long trains next 

to one other

with cars identically filled 

with coal heading somewhere that

we don’t think about

sitting there watching our TVs.

You see it out your airplane window when 

you’re almost landing at night

at a big city airport when

the view is nothing but lights on in suburban homes

after suburban homes. And streetlights

on and on.

Monday, March 29, 2021


Enslaved people were not allowed to be taught to read or to write. There were statutes against it. Desperate and determined and underground efforts were made by some of the enslaved to learn and use those skills. When slavery ended they started schools for those who could attend. Here’s a paragraph from the book self-taught by Heather Andrea Williams about one of the literacy efforts:

Some teachers were fortunate enough to receive donations of one or two types of books from northern organizations, but the tool that African Americans used most frequently to decode written English was Noah Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book, popularly called “the blue-back speller.” This book, which insisted on an American pronunciation distinct from the English, was Webster’s contribution to the American Revolution. Having “thrown off the shackles” of English rule, Americans, Webster believed, should also renounce the language. Instead of “honour,” Americans would spell “honor”; instead of “publick,” “public.” By 1818, Webster’s book had sold 5 million copies. It was this little book that Frederick Douglass and countless other enslaved people used in their first steps toward literacy. And when slavery ended, adults and children, many of whom could not attend school, got hold of the blue-back speller and slowly taught themselves to read. The speller accrued emotional significance as the guide that helped individuals to decipher written language. At 87 years of age, John Walton expressed his sentimental attachment when he told an interviewer, “I learned to read and write a little just since freedom Us used Websters old blue back speller and I has one in de house to dis day and I wouldn’t take nothing for it.” ‘