African Americans were not considered equal to their white counterparts before the passage of the Civil Right Act of 1964. They were not allowed to use the same restrooms, eat in the same restaurants and worst of all, they were forbidden to be educated. Slave owners and many white people were determined to keep slaves and free blacks illiterate for the sole purpose of keeping them ignorant and prevent insurrection such as Ned Turner Uprising which killed 31 white Southerners from occurring. These white people feared that once educated, blacks would feel resentment towards their treatments by the white race. Punishments included beatings, heavy fines, and public humiliation for those who made attempts to teach slaves to read. These severe punishments were very successful in keeping blacks ignorance about their identity and their treatment.
Yet these strict rules did not prevent Frederick Douglass and Richard Wright from an education. In their writings, they risk everything just to learn the basic skill that every white person had access to. Frederick Douglass' Learning to Read and Write and Richard Wright's Writing and Reading depict the hardships and dangers that they have to overcame in order to learn the basic skills of reading and writing. A free black man who can read and write is considered an anomaly during Wright's time and an educated slave is unheard of and forbidden during Douglass' days. However, their adversities do not discourage them from obtaining an education. For Richard Wright, a "Negro" who could read and write was a danger to the white community.
Even though slaves no longer exist because of the Thirteen Amendment's passage in 1864, many restrictions such as Jim Crow laws and lynching discourage blacks from attempting to be educated. Black people are "not allowed to patronize the library shelves anymore than they were the parks and playgrounds of the city." This serves as one of the many restrictions that Wright has to overcome in order to learn how to read and write. When he is caught reading anything other than newspaper, he risks being lynched by white supremacist groups in the community. Getting a book to read became a challenge for Wright. He had to be careful who he asked for help in retrieving books because those he asked might have been be in the KKK or its "sympathizer." Wright takes education seriously and it helped him become educated. Therefore, no matter what were the circumstances, Wright persevered and gained the ability to further his knowledge.
Unlike Wright, Douglass is a slave when he first learns how to read and write. As a result, he encounters countless restrictions in his pursuit for an education. Douglass is always "being watched" by his masters because they wants to prevent him from learning how to read and write. Douglass' masters always scrutinize him in order to prevent him from reading books. If he is caught trying to learn to read or write, there would be a "severe beating" by his masters.
Douglass endures many abuses for many years in the quest of learning these basic skills. He is constantly trying to learn more every chance he got. He would cajole the neighboring white kids to teach him how to write. Douglass would complete his chores as fast as he could so that he could create opportunities to further his knowledge.
Other than restrictions from the society around him, Douglass had to learn to read and write by himself without any help and encouragement. Douglass' dedication to educate himself to read and write has transformed him into a better and stronger man. As Douglass and Wright's experiences show education is not a right for all but a privilege for some. For Douglass and Wright, it become a life long challenge. Many of their friends, family, and ancestors have failed to overcome this challenge. Therefore, this challenge has transformed them into stronger and more successful individuals..