Learning to Read with Aunt Chloe

The Crafting Freedom Materials Project

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a prolific African American writer of the nineteenth century, wrote novels, speeches, and poetry. One of her most popular series of poems was presented in the voice of a fictional character she named "Aunt Chloe." This character was a very wise black woman who survived slavery and its aftermath. In this short video, Aunt Chloe looks back on her days as a slave and through the poem "Learning to Read" describes the secretive and often ingenious ways slaves acquired literacy. Free and enslaved people of color valued literacy because they saw it as an aid to obtaining freedom.

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