A New Perspective on Black Education: A Review of the Literature on the 19th Century New York Experience

By Washington, Michael | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 31, 1993 | Go to article overview

A New Perspective on Black Education: A Review of the Literature on the 19th Century New York Experience


Washington, Michael, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


A New Perspective On Black Education: A Review Of The Literature On The 19th Century New York Experience

The battle for education has been a central theme in the struggle of African-Americans. During the period of enslavement, the reconstruction period, the Jim Crow Era and the decades throughout the twentieth century, Black Americans have fought for quality education. This has been an elusive goal. Quality education for this group is still a dream deferred. Why has the acquisition of quality education been an elusive goal for Blacks? What do the historical studies on Black education tell us in response to this question? It is the purpose of this review to address this question as it relates to the historiography of nineteenth-century Black education in New York State. The goal of the review is to synthesize what is known about the nineteenth-century educational experience of Blacks by examining the two dominant perspectives and offering another way of looking at the Afro-American educational experience.

The Civil Rights-Integrationist Historiographical Perspective

On May 17,1954 in Brown ####V. Board of Education the Supreme Court of the United States was unequivocal in outlawing segregated public schools. Not only did this landmark decision unleash the modern Civil Rights movement but it also put into motion the social and political forces that shaped the consciousness and perspective of an entire generation of scholars. Indeed, the social forces which moved the American society toward integration had a significant impact on the historiography of Afro-America and Black education and was reflected in the historical studies on nineteenth-century Black education in New York State. In July 1969, when Arthur O. White's study entitled "The Black Movement Against Jim Crow Education in Lockport, New York 1835 - 1876" was published in New York History: The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association; it was the first study on Black educational history in New York to be published which employed the Civil Rights-Integrationist perspective. This historical perspective sought either to document the negative impact of isolation and segregation upon Black Americans or to demonstrate the efficacy of interracial cooperation in bringing about improvements in the social, political, and economic conditions of Black America.(2)

White's study was a reflection of this perspective. The study relies on a host of primary sources, including Western New York newspapers, minutes of the proceedings of the Second Annual Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Color, and a court decision, as well as secondary sources. From these sources, White attempted to demonstrate that African-Americans in Lockport, New York began agitating for separate schools in 1835 but because of the white custom of racial segregation they discovered by the 1840s that segregated education meant inferior education. The study also sought to demonstrate that by the 1860s African-Americans in Lockport, New York became the last of the Western New York Black communities to pursue integrated education.(3)

Adhering to the integrationist theme, White published another article several months later which appeared in the Winter 1969 issue of Phylon, entitled "The Black Movement Against Jim Crow Education in Buffalo, New York 1800 - 1900." White argued that the African school, which originated out of the free school movement in 1839, was inferior to white schools, causing Blacks to wage a legal struggle to integrate public schools. The data White used to support his thesis came from such primary sources as newspapers, which included The North Star, the Rochester Daily, the Niagara Courier, the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, and the Buffalo Express. He also drew heavily from such sources as superintendent reports, minutes of Buffalo City Hall, census data, court cases, common school proceedings and reports from the Department of Education. …

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