Subordination or Liberation? The Development and Conflicting Theories of Black Education in Nineteenth Century Alabama

By Robert G. Sherer | Go to book overview

PART I
Seeking a Way Out: Public Schools

2
TEACHERS INSTITUTES AND THE STATE TEACHERS ASSOCIATION

In studying education most scholars have focused on what whites were doing to blacks, on the developing web of subordination and its three main strands of separate, unequal, and different education for blacks. It is impossible to understand this period, however, without also studying the ways black leaders sought to free black students to play a fuller role in society. As William Edward Burghardt DuBois ultimately realized, education alone was not enough. Blacks also needed economic and political power. But neither DuBois nor most other black leaders ever denied the critical importance of education, especially for black leaders, in helping blacks attain their just place in the American economy, society, and politics. Having come "up from slavery," blacks also busied themselves with "finding a way out" of the web of subordination. 1 Alabama blacks sought to use primary and secondary public schools along with private schools and colleges as one way out of the web. While educational strategies differed, the goal remained the same. Alabama left the control of local public education almost entirely in the hands of local officials. Considering the effects of the Apportionment Act of 1891 and the disfranchising Constitution of 1901, this meant that the local schools faced more discrimination and white domination than did the state normal schools.

But there were openings in the web of subordination even in the local schools. As recent studies of slavery have shown, emancipated blacks had a long tradition of sustaining certain elements of their culture despite white pressures. 2 Also, compared to today's schools, black public schools in the nineteenth century were functionally, private schools. 3 For most black families to allow a child to attend school, they had to give up a field hand for several months each year and raise the money for registration or tuition, books, supplies, and

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