Early Life and Education
Nathan Benjamin Young, born a slave in Alabama, was a member of that select group of freedmen who dedicated their lives to the uplift of their race through education. Young, like many other young freedmen, had the advantage of his mother's encouragement and inspiration, but he also had what was lacking in many of the other cases, the opportunity to pursue a formal education. His educational experience led him through the usual period of doubt in determining his life's work. In the end, however, Young was convinced that he could make a significant contribution to racial advancement by becoming a teacher.
Young, the son of Susan Smith and a father whose identity is not known, was born in Newbern, Alabama, on September 15, 1862. His mother was the most important influence on Nathan's life. Susan Smith, the daughter of an African mother and a father of mixed blood, was born in slavery in Chatham, Virginia, in 1843. When she was twelve years old, her master died, and in the settlement of his estate, she was given the choice of being sold to a local master who had the reputation for abusing his slaves, or being sold to a slave trader. Her mother persuaded her to take her chances with the slave trader. In the fall of 1856, Susan was sold for $750 and taken from the plantation without having the opportunity to say a final good-bye to her mother. She would not see her parents again until after the Civil War.1
1. Nathan B. Young, “The Quest and Use of an Education,” typewritten
manuscript, 83, hereafter cited as “The Quest.” Young manuscript, Joint