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The black press did not become established until the early nineteenth century in Latin America and the Caribbean. This was due to the oppressive system of slavery and to extremely high illiteracy rates. Indeed, learning to read and write was a punishable offense under some slave codes. Even after abolition, blacks and mulattoes (persons of African and European descent) encountered numerous obstacles to opportunities that involved writing, such as exclusion from higher education. Many of the most celebrated early black poets and journalists were largely self-taught. Those who did publish before the nineteenth century—notably Rosa María Egipcíaca da Vera Cruz in Brazil and José Manuel Valdés in Peru—were exceptions to the rule.

Materials published by the black community during the nineteenth century included abolitionist pamphlets chapbooks newspapers and periodicals During most of the century romanticism was the predominant literary ethos and poetry was the genre of choice in newspapers ...