Those who share: Three generations of black women

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Department of Humanities


What roles do families play in both changing and sustaining generational patterns of literacy practices and values? In the more than 350 face-to-face and online interviews we conducted for this project, we learned that the answers to this question are as varied as the families with whom we came in contact. One persistent pattern we observed, however, had to do with the ways in which families shared basic literacy values-both within and among generations-if not literacy practices, which were more dependent on cultural values and technological developments that changed with time. In this chapter, we trace three generations of Black women in Nichole Brown’s family, all of whom grew up and acquired literacy in South Carolina during the last six decades. Although these stories should, in an ideal world, outline a narrative of promise, of steadily improving conditions for the practice of literacy, in general, and digital literacy, more specifically, they do not. First, an introduction to those we interviewed. Sheila Martin,1 born in 1942 in rural South Carolina, attended school in the segregated South of the 1940s and 1950s. Driven by the twin goals of graduating from high school and becoming a writer, Sheila excelled academically, but she had to leave school after the tenth grade to work in a sewing factory near her home to support herself and her sisters. In 1971, Sheila’s sister Jean married and became the mother of Nichole Brown. Nichole grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, during the 1970s and 1980s, and inherited many of the literacy values that her mother and aunt had acquired from their family: a lifetime habit of reading, an insistence on perfectionism in writing, and a general love of learning. Nichole, however, also grew up in a culture that placed a high value on electronic literacy and acquired basic computing skills in high school. She practiced these literacy skills at home on a $300 Sears word processor and became so adept at computer-based communication that she enrolled in a master’s level technical communication program at Clemson University.

Publication Title

Literate Lives in the Information Age: Narratives of Literacy From the United States