Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
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Could any enslaved people read and write?

A lot of enslaved people worked very hard to learn to read, write, and do math. This was illegal in most states, but some learned anyway. In Maryland, it was not illegal for enslaved people to learn to read and write, but whites were discouraged from teaching them. Sometimes enslaved people learned from each other or from free blacks. Sometimes, white people taught them.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass believed that the ability to read and write was the first step towards freedom.

Free blacks opened schools for children and adults. In Baltimore, a man named William Watkins ran one well known school. A lot of the black churches operated day schools. Because Sunday was the only day that most people did not have to work, the churches also offered Sabbath schools where both adults and children could learn to read, write, and do math on Sunday afternoons. Free blacks and also some enslaved people attended these schools.

Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist who was born enslaved in Maryland, believed that the ability to read and write was the first step towards freedom. He wrote: "Education´┐Żmeans emancipation; it means light and liberty." He learned to read while he was enslaved in Baltimore. At first, his mistress taught him, but then her husband forbade the lessons. Then he learned from friends on the street. He also attended Sabbath school when he could. As an adult, he published a famous anti-slavery newspaper called the North Star.

When did slavery end in Maryland?

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