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

By Hilary Green | Go to book overview

8 Still Crawling
Black Mobilians’ Struggle for Quality
Schools Continues

Femme’s bold New Year’s request must have elicited mixed emotions when New York Globe readers saw her remarks. While some may have been confused or shocked by her prayer request for education and wealth, it would have deeply resonated among black Mobilians. Her synopsis characterized their experience. Like Femme, they “crawled as well as we could, and when the time came for us to walk we had no one to stretch out their hands to encourage us to walk, but we did walk; true it was slowly, but surely.” Moreover, black Mobilians would have received Femme’s words differently than black Richmonders. With the exception of two northern missionary associations, a few local white allies, and briefly the Peabody Education Fund, they, too, lacked “support from the whites, and our own people in the North were not able to help us.” Yet the promise of education guided their hard and slow struggle and permitted several gains after the Freedmen’s Bureau departure. As they entered the second decade of the quality school campaigns, black Mobilians, like Femme in Petersburg, Virginia, required spiritual assurances in their quest for education, freedom, and citizenship.1

In the 1880s, black Mobilians continued a “slowly, but surely” crawl in their struggle for quality public schools. Unlike the case with their Richmond counterparts, a more conducive political environment never manifested itself for Mobilians. Perseverance and continued activism allowed them to make modest yet steady progress in their quality campaigns. Their unwavering insistence on quality public schools and a firm commitment to becoming a literate people ensured that African American children would continue to access a public school education.2 Through continued pressure on their allies and resilience in the face of adversity, activists achieved steady progress in their quest.

Unlike their Richmond counterparts, black Mobilians proved less successful in securing direct representation on the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners. Throughout the 1880s, a Democrat’Conservative coalition firmly controlled the city’s political system. While black Mobilians maneuvered the terrain and secured various patronage positions, they proved unable overcome the

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