Curated Leadership for Today's World

Up from Slavery—The Freedom to Read by Aamir Musharraf

Posted on 01 February 2013

bookfreepeopleToday, February 1st, we celebrate our freedom to read. On this date in 1865 President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery. Lest we forget, for slaves, learning to read had been forbidden. Some slaves who dared to become literate were punished by having a finger chopped off in front of the whole slave community. Or worse. The following extracts from the 1833 Alabama Slave Code were once the law of the land in that state:


  • Section 31 - "Any person or persons who attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, to spell, read, or write, shall, upon conviction thereof by indictment, be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars."


  • Section 32 - "Any free person of color who shall write for any slave a pass or free paper, on conviction thereof, shall receive for every such offense, thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, and leave the state of Alabama within thirty days thereafter..."


  • Section 33 - "Any slave who shall write for any other slave, any pass or free-paper, upon conviction, shall receive, on his or her back, one hundred lashes for the first offence, and seven hundred lashes for every offence thereafter..."


Alabama’s lawmakers understood the power of literacy. They knew that it was a gateway to human liberty; therefore, they forbade it.

It’s been 148 years since such laws were abolished, yet many of us "choose" not to read. We give up reading after we finish school. This is a travesty. The old adage, "knowledge is power", is even more relevant in today's information-based society. Reading is the key to our success as individuals and as a nation. Not to exercise our right to read is like choosing slavery. Reading is the one vehicle that propels our lives forward. Reading is the spark that ignites the cylinders of thinking, and powers the engines of expression and creation. Reading great books transfers knowledge directly to the heart and unleashes the will to act. Reading tremendous books inspires provoking thoughts, which lead to understanding, happiness, and achievement. It works like magic. History bears testimony to ordinary people who accomplished the extraordinary through the magic of reading. People like Abraham Lincoln, whose formal education consisted of only about a year's worth of classes. He was a self-taught man who used the power of books to succeed.

Read! We still have 333 days left to accomplish tremendous things in 2013.  We can make a difference. We can change ourselves and the world one book at a time.

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2 comments

  • traceyjones: February 20, 2016

    Thanks Mark, here’s to true freedom through reading and thinking for ourselves!!

  • Mark Armstrong: February 20, 2016

    Well said, Tracey! Not only are people enslaved by not reading, many of them are even more enslaved by relying on television news for information/misinformation!

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