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Letter: The Cruelty of Illiteracy

To the Editor:

A rarely discussed aspect of slavery in the United States before the Civil War was the hatefulness of forced illiteracy. If a compassionate Southerner was caught teaching a slave to read and write, he could be arrested.

A recently discovered box of papers contained writings by a slave. It is not known how he learned to write. He was not writing to anyone in particular. It was crude writing. One condition of his bondage, he wrote, was that if he was caught writing, his fingers would be cut off.

In the more than 10 years I have written about my knowledge of and ways to overcome illiteracy, not one person has contacted me or shown any interest in overcoming this unofficial crime.

A month ago, a woman who works in a popular local establishment informed me of a 60ish-year-old guy she helps every week. He brings his mail for her to read and then she helps him complete his needed business affairs.

How many unemployed people are illiterate? How many school dropouts are illiterate? How many inmates are illiterate? How many substance abusers are illiterate?

Roger Small