During slavery, most black slaves were denied formal education and in fact many laws were passed in the South prohibiting slave literacy in the aftermath of various slave rebellions. Even free blacks in the century before and after the Civil War were limited in their access to mainstream, quality education and vocational training.
This limited education and training meant that, for the most part, blacks were shut out of professional occupations and confined to working in industries deemed acceptable for them, such as domestic services, some manual trades, and agriculture. Nevertheless a small number of exceptionally talented blacks were able to obtain an education and, through their life's work, make significant contributions to American life.
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