Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

15
The African American Reformed Community "Two Warring Ideals in One Dark Body"

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN Reformed community, in spite of its tensions, possessed an inner coherence that gave it a distinct character. In addition to its congregations, the community developed, with the help and sometimes the initiative of Northern philanthropy, an extensive school system throughout the low country. These schools helped to link congregations and families in an extended web of connections and played a central role in consolidating and shaping the character of the community. Beginning on the sea islands before the end of the Civil War, the system reached its high point during the first three decades of the twentieth century only to almost disappear during the Great Depression. Part of an extensive system throughout the state (there were by 1917 forty-seven Presbyterian schools alone in South Carolina), most of the schools were day schools that ran through the elementary levels, but they also included a number of academies and institutes that took their students through the higher levels and provided college preparation. In addition, for a few years there were two junior colleges sponsored by the Presbyterians.1

One of the first schools organized for blacks in Charleston after the war was the Saxton School, established in 1865 by Thomas Cardozo, brother of Francis L. Cardozo, under AMA sponsorship. By 1868 it had 541 pupils--almost equally divided between males and females--enrolled during at least part of the year. Francis Cardozo, who followed his brother, was superintendent with eight white teachers.2 In 1867 Francis Cardozo organized for Saxton's most promising students the Avery Normal Institute. With the support of the AMA and the federal government's Freedmen's Bureau, Avery was designed as a normal (or teachers') school. It soon gained the reputation of providing the highest quality education in the state for African Americans. Intimately linked to the Plymouth Congregational Church, Avery's roots reached deep into the history of the black membership of the Circular Congregational Church. These Congregationalists brought with them into freedom their old church's long-standing commitment to the life of the mind. Avery would maintain over the years

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