John W. Fields, Age 89
“In most of us colored folks was the greatest desire to [be] able to read and write.”
This suggests that most slaves wished to be educated and would fully appreciate the opportunity to do so if it was given to them by their owner. He goes on to say that “we took advantage of every opportunity to educate ourselves” which goes against the slave owner’s idea that slaves were not smart and not capable of being educated. The narrative also tells us that if a slave was caught trying to learn they would be severely punished, and if “a white man was caught trying to educate a Negro slave, he was liable to prosecution entailing a fine of fifty dollars and a jail sentence”. A punishment like this would have deterred the majority of white people from trying educate slaves.
“Our ignorance was the greatest hold the South had on us” This is the most important line from this narrative in my opinion. This suggests that the reason slave owners did not want slaves being educated was so that the slaves remained ignorant and thus did not fight back against their slavery. If a slave was educated they wouldn't be seen as unintelligent animals that can be used for slavery, they would be educated on the same level as a white slave owner and thus capable of doing more educated jobs, jobs that only the white man did at the time. An educated slave would threaten the employment prospects of the white people, if slaves were educated then white man could no longer deny their human rights by saying that they were like animals, they would be seen as more equal and this scared the white people.
John W. Fields describes how him and the other slaves were never allowed to go into town, which meant that until he ran away he didn't even know that the white people “sold anything but slaves, tobacco, and whiskey”. Which shows that slaves were kept in a very isolated world, only knowing what their slave master wanted them to know, they had no connection to anything or anyone outside of their plantation unless their master wanted them to. This shows how the slave masters had complete control over all aspects of the slave’s lives, they could tell them where to go and what to do to the extent that they could completely isolate a slave for their entire life.
“We knew we could run away, but what then?”
This shows how this enforced isolation would mean a slave would have no choice but to stay on the plantation and work, as they knew so little about the word away from the plantation they would not know what to do if they managed to run away from their slave master.