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Table of Contents
	Parameters of the Study
	The Setting of the Study
	The Analytical Framework: Sponsors of Literacy
	"The Typical Little Village of That Day”: The Case of Martha Day
	“I Did a Lot with Homelessness”: The Case of Barbara Hunt
	Literacy Learning and Economic Change
	Dwayne Lowery, Born 1938
	Johnny Ames, Born 1950
	Genna May, Born 1898
	Sam May, Born 1925
	Jack May, Born 1958
	Michael May, Born 1981
	The Church
	Mass Movement and Mass Literacy
	“How It Manifests Itself On Paper”: The Writing Career of Jordan Grant
	Sponsors of African American Literacy
	Cultural Dissociations: Reading versus Writing
	“Part of the Good Stuff”: The Prestige of Reading
	“It Was Nothing Encouraged”: The Ambiguity of Writing
	Reading and Writing across Generations
	Writing and Reading Relationships in School
	Compelling Literacy
	Demographic Questions
	Early Childhood Memories
	Writing and Reading in School
	Writing and Reading with Peers
	Extracurricular Writing and Reading
	Self-Initiated Writing or Reading
	Writing on the Job
	Civic or Political Writing
	Influencial People
	Influential Events
	Purposes for Writing and Reading Overall
	Current Uses of Reading and Writing
	Sense of Literacy Learning
	Introduction: The Pursuit of Literacy
	Chapter 1. Literacy, Opportunity, and Economic Change
	Chapter 2. Literacy and Illiteracy in Documentary America
	Chapter 3. Accumulating Literacy: How Four Generations of One American Family Learned to Write
	Chapter 4. “The Power of It”: Sponsors of Literacy in African American Lives
	Chapter 5. The Sacred and the Profane: Reading versus Writing in Popular Memory
	Chapter 6. The Means of Production: Literacy and Stratification at the Twenty-First Century
	Conclusion: Literacy in American Lives
Document Text Contents
Page 136

within the family economy. It provided a (very modest) living, but it also
allowed Hawkins to communicate to her children the importance of a col-
lective effort toward learning. On a practical level, it enabled her to observe
how things worked in her children’s school and how teachers responded to
students. She also monitored the curriculum and was sometimes dis-
pleased by what she called “outdated” material in use in the grade school.

As a high school student, Hawkins said she had written quite a number
of book reports, but, she said, speaking of the early 1970s, “We didn’t have
all these good books available to us, like black history books. That wasn’t
available to us. We didn’t know who the heroes were back then, who was
the first black doctor and those kinds of things.” She also said she did not
have easy access to public libraries as a girl. Asked if she ever used the pub-
lic library to write her school reports, Hawkins replied, “We were thinking
about doing it. But at that time, people of color didn’t have the same privi-
leges as whites had, if I can say that.” In recent years, Hawkins acquired a
typewriter for herself, had paid for but did not complete a correspondence
course on academic guidance, and was building a library that was of keen
importance to her. Her description of this effort incorporated the values of
self-determination, collective uplift, and religious and secular activism that
have been part of the tradition of the black church:

We’re trying to start a library, a home library.We have stuff like
three sets of religious books and we have all kinds of magazines,
from children’s magazines on. I’m ordering a set of black history
books about how black Americans achieved their own life and
where they have come from and where they are going. I think I owe
every book company in America. I’m going to do some basic
research some day. I’m going to start with basic research and move
my way up and then kind of set up a home library and it’s going to
be important for myself, my children, and other people who would
like access to it. Someday if I live long enough – I hope it will hap-
pen – I’d like to set up a scholarship for all children, no matter what
age, what color, what ethnic group. It would just be for your educa-
tion. I would like to be president of my own company. So I still have
my materials, still have the typewriter, all this stuff. But I haven’t
really unfolded all the things that I’ve got in the back of my mind.

Meanwhile, Hawkins displayed for my visit her son’s perfectly scored
spelling test and a script for a school play in which her older daughter had
a role. She kept her workbook from the parents’ group next to her Chris-
tian Keepsake Organizer, a daybook bordered by short religious messages
and filled mostly with family photographs.

122 Literacy in American Lives

Page 137

To sum up, for many African Americans the black church functioned
as a multiply performing sponsor of literacy and literacy learning that
provided important opportunities and rewards for its members.The links
among faith, moral uplift, educational improvement, and self-determina-
tion that launched the African American church at its onset carried on
both in contemporary church practices and in the interpretive orienta-
tions of people raised in its influence.These traditions in some ways stand
in contrast to a prevailing concepts of literacy that critics and historians
identify as secular, technical, specialized, and fragmented.With a spiritual
emphasis on recuperation, unification, collectivity, memory, and persis-
tence, the religious literacy of the African American church invites mem-
bers to affiliate with much older-seeming literacy traditions.

The literacy values and practices of the black church illuminate the
relationships between literacy learning and agents associated with the
deep structure of African American cultural survival.The church remains
one of the important channels within African American society to provide
what larger political systems withhold and to offer conscious alternatives
to the hostility and negativity that those larger systems often deliver.

This chapter will continue to seek the presence of African American
self-help institutions of long standing as they appear as enabling agents –
directly and indirectly – in the literacy learning of ordinary African Amer-
icans. As we will see, the values of persistence and keeping whole – which
function as both practical and spiritual necessities – favor some of the old-
est aspects of literacy’s historical development. They also favor a multi-
plicity of roles for literacy agents and their practices. These conditions
bring a multiplicity and simultaneity to the meanings of literacy – a syn-
ergy that often combines practical and spiritual significance and that
makes one meaning less compelling without the other.


Another component in this deep-rooted survival system are African
American educators. V. P. Franklin (1990) explained the practical and
symbolic value of education within African American culture. In a society
in which land, jobs, and human rights were not secure, education became
“valuable not merely as means of social or educational advancement but
as an end in itself” (p. 40). Once obtained, education was an asset that
could not be taken away.20 Further, although in the general society educa-
tion in the twentieth century often functioned as an edge in economic
competitions with others, in black society it could more often function

“The Power of It” 123

Page 271

ideologic use of, 28
instability introduction by, 27
librarians as, 152
military as, 84–87, 91
reading vs. writing, 148, 167–168
in university town, 175

Standards, for literacy, historical
change in, 30

Stars and Stripes, 86
State, as literacy sponsor, 27–28
Stevens, Edward

on advanced contractarian society,

on illiteracy, 50–51
on literacy and justice, 47–48

Story hours, in libraries, 151
Storybooks, 150–151
Storytelling, 58–59
Stratification, of literacy, 29,

169–186, 197
Student Nonviolent Coordinating

Committee, 140–142
Sub rosa writing, in school, 166
Sunday Schools, literacy training in,

20, 108
in African American churches, 113,

reading vs. writing emphasis,


bilingual, 179–180
as literacy sponsors

for African Americans, 123–132
in early 20th century, 35
in late 20th century, 46

rural, 36
Technical writing

in military, 84–85
software documentation as,


literacy learning from, 43, 101,

writing based on, 164
Thompson, George Raynor, on

words as weapons, 86
Thompson, Paul, on oral history, 10

by African Americans, 125, 126,

certificates for, 166
by children, 74, 100
equipment for, 160
influencing literacy, 174

Union representation, literacy
development during, 51–57,

United Negro College Fund, 141,

University community, computer
technology access in,

“Vernacular” literacy, 7–8
Vietnam War, illiterate recruits for, 60
Vocational education, 96–98
Voting, literacy requirements for, 47

Welles, Orson, as writing inspiration,

Wesleyan Methodist Conference,
antiwriting movement of, 146

Westlaw database, 62
Williams, Gilbert Anthony, on

African Methodist Episcopal
church, 112

Word processing, children’s use of,
74, 100

Worker education, 53–54, 56–57
World Books, 152
World War II

African American experiences in,

civil rights movement in, 133
literacy learning during, 84–87

for accounting, 49–50, 58, 127,

156–157, 200
by African Americans. See African

book reports, 122, 163
books encouraging, 164
briefs, 54
censorship of, 163

Index 257

Page 272

Writing (continued)
church-related, by African

Americans, 111, 113,
116–117, 119

civil rights movement and,

computers used in. See Computer

contests for, 166
documents. See Documentary

essay, 139, 141, 159, 163–164
for farm journals, 33–36
film-based, 83, 164
for forensic associations, 39–42
generational stratification of. See

Literacy learning, in four-
generation family members

ghost, by African Americans, 119
gifts encouraging, 160
by hand. See Handwriting
journal keeping as. See Journal

letter. See Letter writing
movement against, in English

Sunday schools, 146
plays, 82–83
poetry. See Poetry writing and

against racism, 136–137
vs. reading, 146–168, 196–197

ambiguity surrounding writing,

in American public schools,

computers and, 148
encouragement of reading and

books, 150–154
equality in, 147
feelings toward, 149–150
in France, 146–147
generational aspects of, 160–163
measurability standards for,

memories of school experiences,

in nineteenth-century England,

sponsorship and, 148–149

sermons, 138–140
skits and sideshows, 82–83
in Spanish as second language, 174

in African American churches,

in forensic association, 39–42
sub rosa, 166

in military, 84–85
software documentation as,

with typewriter. See Typewriting

258 Index

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