The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935

The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935

The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935

The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935

Synopsis

James Anderson critically reinterprets the history of southern black education from Reconstruction to the Great Depression. By placing black schooling within a political, cultural, and economic context, he offers fresh insights into black commitment to education, the peculiar significance of Tuskegee Institute, and the conflicting goals of various philanthropic groups, among other matters. Initially, ex-slaves attempted to create an educational system that would support and extend their emancipation, but their children were pushed into a system of industrial education that presupposed black political and economic subordination. This conception of education and social order- supported by northern industrial philanthropists, some black educators, and most southern school officials- conflicted with the aspirations of ex-slaves and thei descendants, resulting at the turn of the century in a bitter national debate over the purposes of black education. Because blacks lacked economic and political power, white elites were able to control the structure and content of black elementary, secondary, normal, and college education during the first third of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, blacks persisted in their struggle to develop an educational system in accordance with their own needs and desires.

Excerpt

The history of American education abounds with themes that represent the inextricable ties between citizenship in a democratic society and popular education. It is crucial for an understanding of American educational history, however, to recognize that within American democracy there have been classes of oppressed people and that there have been essential relationships between popular education and the politics of oppression. Both schooling for democratic citizenship and schooling for second-class citizenship have been basic traditions in American education. These opposing traditions were not, as some would explain, the difference between the mainstream of American education and some aberrations or isolated alternatives. Rather, both were fundamental American conceptions of society and progress, occupied the same time and space, were fostered by the same governments, and usually were embraced by the same leaders.

Appropriately, it was Thomas Jefferson who first articulated the inseparable relationships between popular education and a free society. If a nation expected to be ignorant and free, he argued, it expected the impossible. To the legislature of Virginia in 1787 Jefferson proposed a popular educational system that would offer three years of public schooling to every white child of the commonwealth and then send the brightest male youngsters on to grammar school and college at public expense. But what of the enslaved children who constituted about 40 percent of the total number of Virginia's children and who along with enslaved adults formed the basis of wealth for Jefferson, as well as for the state of Virginia? It was believed that Virginia's peace, prosperity, and "civilization" depended as much, if not more, on the containment and repression of literate culture among its enslaved population as it did on the diffusion of literate culture among its free population.

These two contradictory traditions of American education emerged during the first half of the nineteenth century and clashed with each other until well into the twentieth century. Both legacies flow into our own present. They reflect fundamentally, though not exclusively, the long struggle between two social systems glavery and peasantry on one . . .

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