Bettering Themselves with Books
Slave owners in the United States didn't only control enslaved people's physical freedom. They also strove to break and control their mental freedom. One key step towards accomplishing that second was establishing Slave Codes that made it illegal for slaves to read or write. While there were constant attempts to subvert these laws, the end of Slave Codes meant the beginning of intellectual freedom for many people.
The books in the OAAHM's collection were prized possessions of freed slaves and the children of slaves. These books spoke of racial pride and gave hope for self-improvement. The Remarkable Advancement of the Afro-American Race, published in 1898, includes a chapter titled "Noted Personages of the Afro-American Race, Forerunners of Liberty," comprised of biographical sketches designed to inspire Black readers, while The White Side of a Black Subject has a similar chapter titled "Some Prominent Negroes." Owning books like these, and having the ability to read them, supported freed African Americans in their search for self, especially as they existed in hostile environments not much changed from when they were enslaved.
The family bible was, in many cases, the most treasured object in the home. Christianity was widely adopted by African Americans, but with the ability to own and read ones own bible came the ability to interrupt texts for oneself, outside of the possibly self-serving interpretations provided by Whites.