"I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse . . . would be about the same as getting into paradise."
Even as a young slave boy, Booker wanted to go to school and learn. Long before Emancipation, many African Americans had wanted a basic education. Free blacks, some of them former slaves, had opened schools as early as 1807. Despite laws prohibiting slaves from learning to read and write, some managed to teach themselves. Still, most slaves had their first chance for schooling only after Emancipation.
After the Civil War, there was a movement to educate the newly freed slaves. But most blacks - even youngsters - had to work to help support themselves. For many, an education was still more of a dream than a reality.
"From the time that I can remember having any thoughts about anything, I recall that I had an intense longing to read."
Booker, who had to work to help support his family, pleaded with his stepfather to attend school. He allowed Booker to attend only after he agreed to work before and after school.
Last updated: February 26, 2015