A Wakeup Call

by Rufus Battle

Excerpt from: “One Man’s Battle”

In the spring of 1998, Mom called. We had our usual conversation, during the course of which she asked what I was up to. My answer was by now a familiar one to her – “reading,” I said – after all, as a full-time graduate student, cracking the books was all consuming.

Her response was telling: “Now don’t read too much, it’ll make you crazy!”

I was taken aback. Where on earth did that come from? “Too much reading will make you crazy.” The more I thought about it, the clearer the answer became. Mom had spent the first 40 years of her life, stuck on one Louisiana plantation or another. The notion reading could be detrimental to one’s mind was apparently rooted in slaveholder propaganda, designed to keep slaves in intellectual shackles. The fact a notion so patently ridiculous had survived for so long took my breath away.

I knew my mom knew better. She wasn’t one to question why someone stuck working in a cotton field should bother to learn good grammar, gain a solid grasp of arithmetic, and have a handle on history and civics. While she may never have considered a college education the key to achieving the American Dream, she was well aware of the benefits of knowledge in coping with daily life. Even Papa Joe (My grandfather), a slave at heart, who likely never contemplated real freedom for himself, understood a different life was possible for those who worked toward that end, with education an important factor. My mom’s comment might just as well been utter by a slave mother to her son 200 years ago – what a wakeup call.

Numerous issues in the Black community have roots in practices designed to sustain slavery. Most would be astounded to know the extent to which measures used to sustain slavery continue to affect the lives of descendants.