Introduction: New Perspectives on African American Educational History

By Perkins, Linda M. | The Journal of African American History, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Introduction: New Perspectives on African American Educational History


Perkins, Linda M., The Journal of African American History


While individual articles are published regularly on various aspects of African American educational history, collections of original, scholarly essays devoted specifically to this topic have been rare. It has been nearly twenty-five years since the volume on new research and interpretations of black educational history, edited by V. P. Franklin and James D. Anderson, appeared. (1) New Perspectives on Black Educational History explored the contributions of black women educational leaders Fanny Jackson Coppin and Lucy Laney, northern philanthropy and African American education, African American professional education, and the role of black social, political, and cultural institutions in sponsoring formal and informal educational programs and activities in their communities. (2)

This Special Issue of the Journal of African American History presents new research by scholars who embrace a broad conceptualization of African American educational history. Some of these essays offer new sources and interpretations of topics discussed in earlier scholarship, while others open up new areas for scholarly examination. These works span the period from the 1860s and the schooling provided to formerly enslaved African Americans during and after the Civil War to African American women and the creation of Women's Studies Programs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Heather Andrea Williams' "'Clothing Themselves in Intelligence': The Freedpeople, Schooling, and Northern Teachers, 1861-1871" demonstrates the agency of African Americans in their quest for literacy training and schooling during and after the Civil War. (3) Williams presents new evidence and interpretations of the responses of the northern teachers and missionaries to the intellectual abilities displayed by the formerly enslaved children . Their mental acumen and steady academic progress seriously challenged the white northerners' preconceived notions about the "educability of the Negro."

In the essay "'Womanhood Glorified': Nannie Helen Burroughs and the National Training School for Women and Girls, Inc., 1909-1961," Traki L. Taylor expands our knowledge of the contribution of black women educators and school founders. Black women educators, such as Fanny Jackson Coppin of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, Lucy Laney of Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, and Charlotte Hawkins Brown of Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, headed co-educational institutions. In contrast, Burroughs, like Mary McLeod Bethune, who established the Daytona Industrial School for Girls in Daytona, Florida, in 1904, focused her attention on the education of African American girls. Burroughs demonstrated her commitment to the elevation of black girls and women through her emphasis on the three B's--the Bible, the Bathtub, and the Broom." As a result, many critics labeled Burroughs the female Booker T. Washington, who was training black girls and women to become domestic servants. Howev er, Taylor challenges these views of Burroughs' educational objectives and practices and argues that the National Training School prepared students to become independent and pursue a wide range of occupations and careers. (4)

Whereas the first two essays focus on literacy training and elementary and secondary education, the next three essays focus on significant historical issues in African American higher education. In the essay "Howard University and U.S. Foreign Affairs during the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration, 1933-1945," Clifford L. Muse, Jr., examines the activities and perspectives of Howard's faculty, administrators, and students on the major foreign policy issues at home and abroad, especially those affecting people of African descent. While much has been written on the work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, who served as head of the Political Science department of Howard University in the 1930s and later as a member of the United Nations Secretariat after World War II, Muse highlights the activities of other well known professors, including historians Charles H. …

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