A Brief History of Education
Marian Hughes (1998), in her book Refusing Ignorance: The Struggle to Educate Black Children in Albany, New York 1816-1873, outlined the details of the historical relations between the African American community and the local school systems. This account chronicles the history of Black parents and activists, long before the abolition of slavery in the United States, and their fight for an education for their children. Parents and other Black leaders' initiatives were responsible for the creation of the first school for "children of color" in 1816, a segregated and sporadically funded school called the Wilberforce School. Hughes also documented the continuation of segregated schools lasting in Albany until 1873, when civil rights legislation, drafted and advocated for by an uneducated Black parent, deemed it unconstitutional to segregate children on the basis of color.
In 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation, the issue of equal schooling became more of a pressing issue in the city as elsewhere around the nation. As Hughes (1998) wrote, "Black Albanians continued to press for the rights that had been granted to them on paper but had not translated into tangible improvements in their lives" (p. 63). In order to recognize these conditions, Black leaders held a public meeting on January 5, 1863, to ratify the Emancipation Proclamation, with Frederick Douglass as the guest speaker.
Black parents continued to be active in their fight for equal and safe education for their children. In 1866, the Board of Public Instruction was authorized to pay for the expenses needed to make repairs to the Wilberforce School. This funding authorization was made in response to a complaint by seven Black parents who were concerned about the unsanitary conditions of the school. The petitioners also requested that an additional teacher be assigned to the school. At the time there were 56 students in attendance daily with two teachers present, one of whom was Thomas Paul, the principal and a Black activist and educator. The board reported the following: "the building in a dirty, musty condition...in a rotten and dilapidated state; the privies small and in a condition too filthy to be entered