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

By Robert G. Sherer | Go to book overview
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11
PRIMARY, INDUSTRIAL, AND NORMAL, SCHOOLS

The base of the AM A's black educational system in Alabama after Reconstruction was the primary school, Trinity School, in Athens. 1 Although Trinity (the Association's only school in Alabama with a theological name) opened in May, 1865, under the auspices of the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission, most of the school's development came under the AMA. Trinity's first teachers were the wife of the chaplain of a Wisconsin regiment then stationed in Athens, a soldier of the regiment, and Miss Mary Frances Wells, an army nurse and graduate of Mount Holyoke College. 2

Trinity began in a little old brick church, which Union troops had used as a barracks. The Union troops still in Athens protected the three teachers as they instructed their three hundred pupils, who were "hungry and thirsty, half-naked, but 'so happy' " to get an education. Five hundred black pupils attended Trinity's first three terms. They were "all so eager to learn" that the teachers often worked "from eight in the morning till six or seven in the evening." Then, after a quick meal, they taught another class later in the evening. After establishing a Sunday school, the teachers organized a church and a missionary society. 3

Soon the school moved from the church to an old hotel, a "gaunt old house with wide-open cracks, through which pea-shooters and pop-guns were often introduced to the great discomfort of both teachers and pupils." There Miss Wells and her two assistants taught day and night classes. Miss Wells was a "frail, alert little woman." Her pupils included a "man in the linen ulster," seven brothers who came to school one at a time since they "had but one pair of presentable trousers between them," old ladies wearing homespun, and young girls in "cast-off finery." The students had real problems learning to

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