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Excerpted from: Monique Langhorne, the African American Community: Circumventing the Compulsory Education System , 33 Beverly Hills Bar Association Journal 12-31, 13-17 (Summer/Fall 2000) (194 Footnotes)
A. Pre-Civil War
Education of African slaves was largely discouraged in Southern states in the pre-Civil War era. This was largely because education was incompatible with the institution of slavery and would ultimately lead to its demise. In the eyes of slavemasters, if slaves were permitted to learn to readand write the English language, they could begin to think and act on their own and rebellion was inevitable. Additionally, proponents of slavery would be forced to accept the fact that Blacks were not inferior or unable to "absorb educative experiences," but that they deserved the same freedoms that Whites enjoyed. Given that slavery proponents were unwilling to accept these truths, enslaved Blacks in areas such as Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina had to secretly educate themselves through clandestine institutions and private instruction. In 1740, South Carolina was the first of the Southern states to pass laws absolutely prohibiting the education of slaves. In North Carolina, Whites who were caught teaching Blacks were subject to fines and imprisonment, whereas Blacks who were caught were subject to fines, imprisonment and whipping.
In spite of such laws, in 1830, Blacks in Lexington, Kentucky established a colored school for thirty students and employed two white men from Tennessee as instructors. In a few cases, slavemasters taught their slaves or the children of slavemasters. However, for the large majority of enslaved Blacks, there were no formally recognized educational institutions. Therefore, slaves depended on private instruction to educate themselves. Some slaves who worked for business establishments were educated by assisting clerks while others learned from fellow slaves. Many Southern societies maintained secret colored schools in violation of the law. It is reported that a Black woman by the name of Deveaux maintained an underground school in the city of Savannah, Georgia for thirty years. As a result of invisible institutions like that of Deveaux's, and other educational institutions, it is estimated that at least one in fifty slaves in the Southern states could read and write and in Georgia, five thousand of the 400,000 slaves were literate. By 1850, it is estimated that 27,107 school aged children were enrolled in school. Out of that figure, approximately 4,354 Black children attended school in the South. However, following the passage of the fugitive slave laws in 1850, the number of Blacks attending school declined. In 1860, only 3,651 Blacks attended school in the South.
Free Blacks in the North were in a better position to develop their own programs and initiatives to educate themselves than were slaves in the South. Whereas enslaved Blacks struggled with issues of freedom and recognition of personhood, free Blacks in the North, to a certain extent, enjoyed these liberties and were able to empower themselves through the pursuit of education. At a time in history when the education of African Americans was largely ignored by White society, Blacks sought ways to develop their own programs and institutions to educate themselves. "The earliest African American Independent schools were created as a natural response to the revolutionary ideals of the new republic that became the United States." The philosophy of the American Revolution-- "the natural rights of man"-- "helped opponents of slavery espouse the right of the Negro education."
In the eighteenth century, Prince Hall, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, petitioned the City of Boston to establish a separate, tax-supported school for African American youth. He urged the Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts to provide a means of education for Blacks because they were taxed as Whites, but received no benefit from the free public schools of Boston. His request was granted; however, Boston would not provide a building to house the students. Therefore, in 1798, Hall established an independent neighborhood school in the home of Primus Hall and operated it until 1803. In 1800, Prince Hall and sixty-six other free Blacks in the community repeated the request for a building. When that request was denied, Hall established a separate school in his own home and employed two Harvard men as instructors. The number of pupils increased so rapidly that the school had to be relocated to the African Society House. While the Harvard instructors only taught at the school until 1806, the school itself continued for at least twenty years until 1820, when Boston finally opened an elementary school for Black youths. In New York, the Manumission Society established the New York African Free School in 1787. In 1791, a woman was employed to instruct the girls in needlework, and industrial training was the focus of the school. The New York African Free School began with forty students and by 1820, more than 500 Black children were enrolled.
In 1786, Richard Allen, a Methodist minister, along with Absalom Jones, other ex-slaves and Quaker philanthropists founded the Free African Society. The slogan for this organization was "To Seek for Ourselves." Although free Blacks in the North enjoyed greater freedoms than enslaved Blacks in the South, many Whites still objected to treating Blacks as equals. This reality led to the establishment of separate Black churches. As a response to White racism, Richard Allen's organization developed into the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1794. This movement was important to education because large numbers of Blacks needed to be educated to carry on the work of these new Black churches. "In 1795, Allen opened a day school for sixty Black children and in 1804, he founded the Society of Free People of Colour for Promoting the Instruction and School Education of Children of African Descent." After Allen's death in 1831, the AME church continued its efforts in education. Wilberforce University was founded in 1854 at Tawawa Springs, near Xenia, Ohio. Wilberforce University was the first college owned and operated by blacks. By the 1859-60 school year, the rolls reported over 207 students. The school educated children of planters in the South as well as those who lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California. The classes included mathematics, French and, for males, theological studies. The doors of Wilberforce were later closed, in 1862, due to the Civil War, but were re-opened and remain open today.
In 1862, Congress passed a bill setting aside 10% of the taxes paid by Blacks to support Black schools in the District of Columbia. At that time, tax-supported, all-Black institutions were insulated from constitutional challenges based on unequal treatment and racial discrimination because segregation in education was legal. Additionally, Fifth Amendment liberties did not embody principles of equal protection from racial discrimination before the Civil War as notions of Black personhood and citizenship were still deeply contested.
B. Civil War: A Period of Transition
Many Blacks began to associate their freedom and liberty with the Civil War. Thus, Blacks took a greater interest in the War and went to lengths to promote Union victory. Some Blacks organized raiding parties, built supplies and fortifications along coasts and up rivers, while others served as spies for the Union Army. In April 1, 1861, when President Lincoln issued a call for volunteers for the war, Blacks rushed to offer their services. Some slaves left plantations to enlist. By the end of the War, it is estimated that more than 186,000 Blacks were enrolled in the Union army. Critics could not argue that Blacks did not fight for their freedom as more than 38,000 Blacks died in the war and the mortality rate was forty percent more than that of White soldiers.
As the war dragged on, the connection between fighting the war and gaining freedom for Blacks became increasingly clear. In the South, in 1862, Blacks who were enlisted in the Confederate army received certificates of emancipation. Also, in 1863, to hasten an end to the war, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared that all slaves in states still in rebellion would be set free. The end of the war, in 1865, brought a close to the institution of slavery and marked a victory for the pursuit of life, liberty and access for African Americans.
C. Post Civil War
Following the end of the Civil War, the pressures to contain and control the large numbers of freed Blacks led to a pooling of public as well as private funding sources to contribute to the education of African Americans. Citizens of Pennsylvania provided both public and private support of Negro schools. "The chief contribution of the Reconstruction government was to set a precedent for the democratic right of all people to public tax-supported education." The Freedman's Bureau (1865-70) sought to prepare former slaves for freedom. The Bureau was instrumental in giving financial support to philanthropists, freedmen and states to establish a system of education for Blacks. Over 4,000 schools were established by the Bureau and approximately 250,000 Black students attended. By the end of its five-year term, the Bureau's expenditures totaled $3.5 million (this amount includes $1.5 million donated by benevolent organizations and $1 million from Blacks).
Under the provisions of the second Morrill Act of 1890, land-grant colleges for Blacks were established which provided a framework for state-sponsored institutions of higher education and assured that land-grant funds for Negro education existed. A total of sixteen Historically Black Institutions and Colleges (HBIC's) were funded under this program. These institutions offered largely agricultural and industrial training for Blacks and enrolled as few as twelve to as many as 650 Black students by 1915. HBIC's evolved into vital educational resources for the nation and the principal means of access to education for African American men and women and still exist today. The goals of land-grant legislation were validated when the Supreme Court decided Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The decision legitimated "separate but equal" facilities for Blacks and Whites. The Supreme Court's endorsement of officially mandated segregation necessitated the establishment of separate Black institutions and also made it possible to use public funds to support these Black institutions.
During this time, philanthropy not only aided materially in providing funds for the education of Blacks by inspiring the Reconstruction legislature of the South to provide for public education programs, but also contributed to the reconstruction of the Black identity in the eyes of American society. Gradually, White attitudes about Black personhood and citizenship seemed to transform as Blacks gained access to education. In 1865, slavery was outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment and only three years later, in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was invoked to protect the rights of freed slaves. Lastly, in 1870, Blacks gained the right to vote through the Fifteenth Amendment. During this period abolitionists and philanthropists fought side by side with Blacks to attain liberty and education for African Americans.
Even still, many Black leaders were disturbed by these philanthropic efforts because then, as today, no advice was solicited from African American parents or educators on ways to educate the African American community. Instead, "the emphasis in the United States at that time was on educative quantity rather than quality." Massive resources went into establishing an education system for former slaves, but some Black leaders felt that the quality and substance of the education system inadequately served the needs of the Black community.
African American leaders began to take the lead in developing different and creative approaches to teaching Black youths. Black pioneer Frederick Douglass was instrumental in the early nineteenth century as he was one of the first African Americans to stress the view that manual training would help Blacks become self-sufficient in seeking employment. Other examples include the efforts of Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama, in developing independent schools throughout the South and those of W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson, who laid the foundation to change the curricula in elementary schools to include contributions by African Americans. Black leaders did not always agree about educational priorities and what type of education Blacks should seek. Langston University, one of the land-grant institutions, found itself in the midst of this debate as controversies ensued over the University's purpose. Specifically, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois voiced differing opinions about Negro education. Washington asserted principles of thriftiness, patience and industrial training for the masses of freed Blacks. In 1895, addressing a multitude of Blacks in Atlanta, he asserted that "the Negro should tread the earth humbly and with love for his white betters if he were just allowed to make a modest living." Washington felt that Blacks needed to develop skills in domestics, manual labor and agriculture. W.E.B. DuBois, on the other hand, challenged Washington's values and methods of industrial training for Blacks. Instead, DuBois advocated a well-educated, intellectual "Talented Tenth" of Blacks who would then lead the Black race into higher civilization. He sought political and social equality for African Americans. DuBois declared that Blacks could not depend upon White leadership to chart their course.
Other Blacks who contributed to the intellectual foundation for the African American educational movement include Lucy Laney, founder of The Haines Normal and Industrial Institute of Georgia; Mary McCleod Bethune, founder of The Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls; and Nannie Helen Burroughs, creator of the National Training School for Women and Girls. These talented Blacks remained in Black neighborhoods and served these Black institutions. Black churches were also pivotal in developing a tradition of education in the South. Between 1847-1907, churches gave over two million dollars to educational efforts and sponsored over one hundred schools at different educational levels. The African Methodist Episcopal and African American Baptist churches provided regular funding for African American independent schools. By 1897, African Americans had established and controlled eighteen colleges, thirty-four academies and fifty-one high schools and seminaries. However, that control was not without a price. Some schools were forced to eliminate academic prepatory courses or to subordinate them to the level of "industrial" education and were required to use the word "industrial" in their name before funds from corporate philanthropic sources were issued. Although these self-help institutions were operated by African American churches, the content of the curricula offered in these schools was largely influenced and determined by European ecclesiastical organizations. In 1932, the First "University" of Islam was started in Detroit, Michigan by Fard Muhammed. According to Hakim Rashid of the School of Education at Howard University, "from the 1930's until the early 1960's, the University of Islam stood virtually alone in its efforts to provide African American children with a world view that stressed self-knowledge, self-reliance and self-discipline." Any Black institutions that depended upon receiving funding were required to conform to a set of ideals dictated by their European sponsors.
D. Jim Crow Era
The dual system of education for Whites and Blacks was developed and expanded in the South between 1890 and 1954. Despite efforts to avoid White influences, philanthropy remained an important part of Black education. In the early years of the twentieth century, public education for Blacks received significant contributions from philanthropists. Also during this period, Booker T. Washington's plan "... to establish an educational program for Negroes that would be acceptable to the South was widely discussed." Southern states capitalized upon these facts and soon introduced inequality in their support of Negro and White education. Segregation advocates reasoned that separate institutions for Blacks could exist because of the continued support from private donators. Thus, efforts toward creating mixed-race schools were quickly thwarted.
Further, the United States Supreme Court gave its approval to Jim Crow segregation beginning with its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which said that separate facilities were legal as long as they were equal. Following Plessy, between 1896 and 1930, only three cases involving Negro education came before the United States Supreme Court. These cases did not directly challenge school segregation, but instead sought to clarify the implications of the separate but equal doctrine. Even so, the Court did not grant relief to the Black plaintiffs. In the 1940's, the Court forced states to take seriously the requirement of "equal" in the separate but equal formulation-- at least for higher education. In Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Supreme Court of Missouri which held that the laws of Missouri did not entitle Blacks to be admitted as students in the University of Missouri because the laws provided for the separation of Blacks and Whites in higher education. While the lower court in Missouri ruled that such a denial was valid under the doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision on the grounds that no Black law school existed. Following this case, graduate schools in the South were opened to Blacks. Unfortunately, Black admission into White graduate schools was short-lived as the expansion of state-supported Black graduate and professional schools increased.
These segregated institutions operated in a "separate but equal" fiction. Heightened support for Black graduate and professional schools was only a ploy to deny Blacks admission to White schools. Blacks found that these tax-supported schools were not being maintained properly. There was no publicly financed Black school comparable to its White counterpart as the system relegated blacks to an inferior educational status. Per capita spending on Black students in public elementary and secondary schools averaged one-third of the spending on White students. White teachers in eleven former confederate states were paid $118.00 as opposed to Black teachers who were paid $73.00. Despite efforts to change the condition of segregated schools, Blacks faced the realities of an unequal educational system. Thus, efforts to reverse Jim Crow segregation became the focus of the African American community.