Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Music Education at Hampton Institute, 1868-1913

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Music Education at Hampton Institute, 1868-1913

Article excerpt

A cursory look through histories of music education in the United States reveals an incomplete story. As these histories exist today, very little information is included concerning the musical education of minorities. Heller calls for more studies to be conducted in this area. (1) Provided here is one such inquiry. This study begins when the first known Africans arrived in the American colonies in 1619. The study then looks at the importance of Fort Monroe and the city of Hampton, Virginia during the Civil War as a background to the founding of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1868. While the charter of the institute allowed for the education of all people, its main focus was on educating freed slaves.

American Indian students also attended Hampton Institute from 1878 until 1926. However, their musical education was handled differently than the musical education of black (2) students, and was also different from the musical education of students at other Indian boarding schools. This situation will be discussed in a future article in order to give full consideration to the unique musical education provided by Hampton Institute.

The study ends in 1913 when the school began transitioning from a trade and normal school into a college, and composer Robert Nathaniel Dett arrived to organize a department of music.

Founding of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute: Blacks in the City of Hampton

The Jamestown settlers arrived in the New World on April 28, 1607 and anchored near land that came to be called Old Point Comfort. The settlers began fortifying Old Point Comfort in 1609 in order to defend the coast. This point later became part of the city of Hampton, founded in 1610. The first African slaves arrived in the American colonies in 1619 on Dutch ships that docked at Old Point Comfort. (3) A more permanent stone fort was begun on Old Point Comfort in 1819 and was completed in 1834. Originally known as Fortress Monroe, now Fort Monroe, this stronghold remained a union encampment prior to and during the Civil War.

Three slaves, escaped from a work detail of the Confederate Army, arrived at Fortress Monroe in the evening of May 16, 1861, asking for refuge. (4) General Benjamin F. Butler, commander of Fortress Monroe, knowing that the escaped men would probably be executed if returned to their captors, issued an order declaring blacks as contrabands of the war. Thousands of runaway slaves, upon learning of this order, gathered in the area seeking protection, and settled in the surrounding town of Hampton. (5) Hampton soon had the largest population of blacks on the eastern seaboard. (6) The Confederate army, based in Norfolk, burned the city of Hampton in 862 in an effort to rid the area of runaway slaves. (7) Their strategy failed. Tents, lean-tos, and shanties were built atop the ruins of the city to house the soon-to-be-freed slaves. The black population in Hampton by the end of the Civil War was estimated in the tens of thousands. (8)

President Abraham Lincoln, through the Emancipation Proclamation, granted slaves in Confederate states their freedom. General Butler read the proclamation on January 1, 1863 to black residents of Hampton, near a giant oak tree, since that time known as the Emancipation Oak. (9) The tree stands on the grounds of what was soon to become Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now known as Hampton University. (10) The Emancipation Oak has a long history of being associated with black education, as it was the site of one of the first elementary schools for blacks, founded by Mary Peake in 1861. (11)

Former black slaves faced the problem of finding work in the south following the Civil War, where white southerners, many bitter over the outcome of the war, refused to give aid to people who were once their slaves. Newly freed blacks were often uneducated, yet had to find a way to support themselves and their families. …

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