Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890

Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890

Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890

Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890

Synopsis

Tracing the first two decades of state-funded African American schools, Educational Reconstruction addresses the ways in which black Richmonders, black Mobilians, and their white allies created, developed, and sustained a system of African American schools following the Civil War. Hilary Green proposes a new chronology in understanding postwar African American education, examining how urban African Americans demanded quality public schools from their new city and state partners. Revealing the significant gains made after the departure of the Freedmen's Bureau, this study reevaluates African American higher education in terms of developing a cadre of public school educator-activists and highlights the centrality of urban African American protest in shaping educational decisions and policies in their respective cities and states.

Excerpt

Wallace Turnage, a former slave from Mobile, Alabama, opened his personal narrative with a plea to readers to ignore its “ungrammatical and desultory” nature. Being “deprived of an education,” Turnage explained that the “knowledge I have to present this biography to you, I learnt during that time and since I escapted the clutches of those who held me in slavery.” His apology for the lack of literary grace in the narrative of his escape during the 1864 Battle for Mobile Bay served as an indictment against antebellum southern society and its view on African American education. Entrenched antebellum racial and social norms may have denied Wallace Turnage and other African Americans an education, but these societal norms never dampened African Americans’ desire to become educated. Like Turnage, urban African Americans acquired literacy and often their freedom whenever opportunity availed it possible. However, these individual examples did not overturn the racial and social obstacles circumscribing African American education. This social and educational revolution occurred only because of the Civil War and Confederate defeat. The fruits of this revolution were apparent to Richmond Colored Normal alumni in 1888.

On June 13, 1888, Professor Daniel Barclay Williams took the opportunity to reflect on the racial progress made since emancipation before an audience of Richmond Colored Normal graduates. “For the last twenty-three years the colored people have made rapid progress in civilization,” the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute professor informed the audience. “Their intelligence has been wonderfully augmented. Public schools, industrial, normal, professional schools, and colleges have taught millions of children, and educated thousands of teachers, ministers, doctors, lawyers, statesmen, business men, and mechanics.” Yet, Williams reminded them, “although much has been done for our people by the powerful influence of intelligence, industry, and morality, much remains to be done.”

Despite the work ahead, Williams and his peers could still celebrate their achievements. Education had yielded them success in a variety of professions . . .

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