I Must Learn Now or Not At All - 17 March 2008 The...

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17 March 2008 The Foundation of American Education In August of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famous speech stating, “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” The truth Christopher M. Span (2001) reveals in his scholarly article “I Must Learn Now or Not at All”: Social and Cultural Capital in the Educational Initiatives of Formerly Enslaved African Americans in Mississippi, 1862-1869 , is that a century before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, freedom and justice in education began in Mississippi by former slaves themselves. Chris Span illustrates the foundation African Americans laid toward the advancement of equal opportunity in education in the 19 th century. He shows that African Americans in the 1860s – a group Span (2001) calls “Impoverished, overwhelmingly illiterate, and extremely vulnerable” (p. 197) – fought through times of discrimination and inequality, and overcame the injustices they faced while bringing education to America. Slaves in the early 1800s are known to have been given no equal rights opportunities as well as no chance for any sort of education. This lifestyle changed dramatically as the Reconstruction era arose; men and women who were once slaves now “viewed freedom optimistically and had rights that extended beyond second-class citizenship,” (p. 196, Span, 2001). Having more opportunities, former slaves now began to promote education as formerly enslaved African Americans “regarded very highly the
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idea of being educated,” says Span (p. 198, 2001). While these men and women were once prohibited from acquiring an education, the desire to gain an education and the desire to learn to read and write was immense. Vernon Lane Wharton (1947), a Mississippi historian claims that this prohibition of education “had a great deal to do with former slaves’ adamant determination toward acquiring literacy” (p. 198). These former slaves, however, had more of a desire to gain an education than
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course RHET 105 taught by Professor Wilson during the Spring '08 term at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

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I Must Learn Now or Not At All - 17 March 2008 The...

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