In the days of Frederick Douglas, an African American slave, his slave master frowned upon his wife for teaching the slave boy the letters of the alphabet, saying if a slave learned to read, he would become dissatisfied with his condition and desire freedom.
White slave owners obviously knew that true slavery is not in chains and fetters but that which exists in the mind and only knowledge will set it free. To keep them enslaved therefore, keep them ignorant.
Denying the slaves the ability to read meant his mind cannot open to possibilities beyond his plantation except for freedom from slavish labour.
Otherwise reading will open up his mind, make him uncomfortable with the mediocrity of his circumstances, kindle the fire of his ambition and desire for self-improvement and set him on the road to freedom.
Douglas secretly acquired the ability to read and his contact with knowledge spurred his pursuit of freedom both for himself and others. He was later widely regarded as a social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. Many found it difficult to believe that someone of his oratorical prowess could have been a slave.
Without his approval, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, a presidential candidate of a less popular party.
These events are historical antecedents and references for the victory of Barack Obama, reinforcing that knowledge and excellence have the power to triumph over limitations and an unfavourable heritage. As a former editor of Harvard Law Review, being a voracious reader comes with the territory.
It was books that first stimulated Oprah Winfrey to see that there was more to life than what existed in rural Mississippi.
It was reading and the pursuit of excellence that transformed Benjamin Carson from the poor child of an illiterate mother to the Head of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins at the young age of 33 and possibly soon, an republican presidential candidate in America.
Nothing is as powerful as when men begin to read for self-improvement, to profit and to make a contribution.
Education still remains the most powerful dividend any government can provide to a society. The menace of Boko Haram is a pointer to failure in this regard.
More important than formal education is self-education. The former is for a defined period. The latter is a lifelong affair.
Here in I suspect is one of the reasons why the African society, even though literacy levels are improving do not profit by it. The practice of lifelong learning, the kind that cultivates the power of the soul, mind and body is alarmingly low.
I still do not see any record of formal education by Frederick Douglas but can we deny the power of self-education that earned him the ears and respect of the nobility of his time.
In the age of the internet with its unique ubiquity and vastness of information, does that not eliminate the excuses of most for not cultivating their mental powers?
In no age than now will the world be less adaptable for those who do not take the profitable pursuit of knowledge seriously.
The divide is no longer between the rich and the poor but now between those who know and those who do not (especially the things that matter).