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Comparing Education


Education in Futa Jallon

The military and religious aristocracy and the notables had the time and the means to devote themselves to study and religious affairs, and Futa Jallon became a renowned center of education. Qur'anic schools functioned in almost every town and by the end of the 19th century, the kingdom counted as many as 3,000. Students learned to read, write, and recite the Qur'an, and some pursued higher education locally or in Timbuktu, Senegal, or North Africa. Females were educated too. Lamine Kebe, a former Qur'anic teacher from Futa enslaved in the United States, stated that a number of girls frequented his school. He was proud of the fact that his aunt was more learned than he was and that she was a skilled teacher. He also knew "women who have been devoted teachers for life, and have rivaled some of the most celebrated of the other sex in success and reputation for talent and extraordinary acquisitions."

A School in Jenne

As early as the 18th century, the Qur'an was translated into Pular, the language of the Fulbe, and as the Holy Book became more accessible, Islam grew deeper roots. Books on a variety of topics, religious and secular, were imported from North Africa and produced locally in Pular written in the Arabic script.

Education in Natchez

In 1800, there were no schools of any sort in the Natchez area. The wealthy often hired tutors, though often with lackluster results. As the years went by, a number of small private academies opened for both boys and girls. However, there was little demand; and the schools, generally owned and operated by a single teacher, soon closed. As a result, there were high levels of illiteracy across the population. This began to change in the 1840s, as schools like the Natchez Institute opened. It had more than 600 students in 1853.

For African Americans, however, the situation was even worse. In Africa, Abdul Rahman had received a rich childhood education. In contrast, enslaved persons in the early United States were excluded from the formal educational system. By 1860, only five percent of the African American population in the United States could read. Many states, including Mississippi, had laws making it difficult for enslaved persons to become literate. The 1822 Mississippi slave code, for instance, made teaching an enslaved person to read punishable by one year's imprisonment. Nevertheless, some enslaved people were indeed literate, either because they arrived already educated, as in the case of Abdul Rahman, or because they were taught by a fellow African or (on rare occasions) a slaveholder.

Prince Abdul Rahman Learning as a Boy in Futa Jallon