Tag Archives: frederick douglass

Black Culture Series – Education and Intellectualism

As was hinted upon in the second part of this series regarding The Black Family, education has always been a focus of the demographic.

Since the 1970s educational statistics for the black demographic have greatly increased regarding high school graduation rates and college entrance and matriculation.

Unfortunately these positive gains are many times overshadowed by pervasive, negative depictions of blacks in media which serve to show black Americans as a demographic that lacks a desire to lift itself via education and hard work. A historical, cultural view of education and intellectualism in black America, however, refutes this depiction as a false stereotype.

As has been shared in this series and in this blog, black Americans have lived in this country for centuries as a majority enslaved population and minority “free” status. Both enslaved and free blacks sought an education due to the understanding that knowledge is power and has the potential to create vast opportunities for the individual, family, and community at large.

Unfortunately for many centuries black Americans were denied the opportunity to be educated. Many are aware that it was against the law in southern states to teach slaves to read. This was due to the belief that it would make a slave unwilling and unsuited for life content to be held as property. Free blacks in many areas were also denied the right of an education. They were “free” in name only and even though they were forced to pay taxes, they were not allowed to participate in society as “free” men and women.

Many “free” and slave states had laws that stated that black children were not allowed to attend public schools. Those families who could afford to do so would hire teachers and tutors to educate their children. In many free communities, the families would also would bind together and raise money for land and buildings to create their own schools. Often these private schools for black children were held in the local black church if one was available.

Here in Toledo, the Warren AME church in the 1850s began a private school for black children.  Due to the low population of blacks in the area, they were unable to sustain the school.  Local blacks in Toledo, including father Garland WHITE paid for private tutors when they could afford to do so.

In 1870 Mr. WHITE filed suit against the City of Toledo due to them excluding his daughter from attending the school in the ward of his residence.  As shared in the post regarding the History of the Toledo Public School district, the city integrated its schools starting in the 1870s.  Per a newspaper article published on March 3, 1871 in the “Weekly Louisianian” a black newspaper published out of New Orleans, LA – Mr. WHITE filed suit against TPS because of its segregation policy that excluded his daughter from attending the school in his ward.  The article, shown below, stated he owned property valued at $10,00.00 yet his daughter, due to her race,  was denied the right to attend, even though  he paid property taxes that supported that school.  More research is required but it can be concluded that since TPS integrated in 1873 that Mr. WHITE won his case.  This occurrence in our local area is one of many similar stories that shows the historical dedication to educational opportunities that black families have consistently maintained.

Many are aware that slaves were not allowed to learn to read as shared above.  Because of it being taboo, many blacks who were enslaved in the south had a yearning for knowledge and a desire to be educated and to educate their children.  They were aware, following the Civil War that being uneducated was to be at a disadvantage.  They were much more likely to be victimized due to a lack of literacy.  Many of the North’s black teachers, schools, and social/community organizations, galvanized around providing educational opportunities for newly freed slaves.  Abolitionist societies also formed new goals of sending white, former anti-slavery activists to the south to educate the newly freed slaves.  The federal government, during the Reconstruction period, opened “Freedman’s Schools” for black people to attend.  These schools were filled with blacks seeking an education.

 

Due to the lack of public education in the south for poor white children, even they were allowed to attend those schools during the Reconstruction era.  By 1870 there were nearly 2000 Freedman’s Bureau Schools in the south. They served to educate both children and adults.  Information obtained during the Reconstruction era showed that the areas with Freedman’s schools had a literacy rate, ten years post Reconstruction, that was 6 points higher than areas that had not been fortunate enough to have a Freedman’s school in their community.   Examples of this dedication to acquiring knowledge can also be observed by studying the lives of more famous black  historical figures – two of which were recently in the media:  Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois.

One of my favorite black men in history is Frederick Douglass.  As many are aware, he was born a slave.  When he was young the wife of one of his masters taught him the alphabet until her husband told her that doing so would ruin him.  Fortunately, she had succeeded a bit and his thirst for knowledge was born.  Young Douglass tricked white boys into teaching him to read and he would later go on to escape slavery and become the most well known black abolitionist in America in his era and even today.  After his escape from slavery and the publishing of his widely read “Narrative,” many whites could not believe that he had written the text himself due to the belief that blacks could not learn to write as eloquently as Douglass.  The “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” was written only seven years after Douglass escaped slavery.  He was one of the first to prove that skin color and ethnic origins was not a factor in intelligence and the ability to learn – a desire for knowledge and a dedication to that desire was all that was needed for him to become one of the most famous black activists in American history.

Dr. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B) DuBois is also a very well known black intellectual.  Dr. DuBois was born in 1868 to parents who had been free people of color.  He was the first black man to receive a PhD from Harvard University.  He also published one of the first historical studies on the role of blacks in a political era entitled “Black Reconstruction in America.”  His later work “The Philadelphia Negro” was the first sociological study of urban black Americans.  His longevity as a researcher, activist and writer is impressive and at its core he always exhibited the fact that black Americans, when not limited by intense race based prejudice and oppression, would have similar socio-economic successes in life as other American ethnicities.    Many who have heard of Dr. DuBois are usually aware of his views that are believed to have differed substantially from those of Booker T. Washington, in that he favored what was then called a “classical” education for black students instead of only an “industrial” education focused on specific trades.  This debate lives on in regards to both of these men and their educational philosophies and it is important to note that both Dr. DuBois and Washington believed that blacks were able to be educated in the same ways as whites and other Americans.  That if taught, blacks would learn, that racism and oppression were a factor not only in educational opportunities but also in economic and commercial opportunities.  And especially if knowledge was desired, it would be consumed.  Their differences primarily centered around politics, economics and opportunity, not a disagreement on the ability of black Americans to learn.

In summation, this modern era whereas more black Americans have completed an education than ever before, is a true testament to the cultural aspects of a dedication to education.  This attitude regarding education – that it is a means to an improvement in the condition of one’s life, has never faded in black America and is at an all time high.  Of course, like all socio-economic issues, education is an area that is still a subject of hot debate and where there are many ideas about ways to increase the quality of education in order to have more positive economic outcomes based on a particular type of education.  These debates harken back to those of Dr. DuBois and Washington mentioned above and are a lasting legacy of the culture’s focus on education within the black demographic.

The Story of Mrs. Julia King – Former Slave/Toledo Resident

During my research and due to my interest in black history, I discovered the Federal Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) slave narrative collection about 15 years ago.

During “The Great Depression” of the 1930s, President Roosevelt created the WPA in order to put educated Americans, especially in the arts, back into the workforce due to the extreme unemployment and economic conditions faced by Americans during this era.

Luckily, the WPA took an interest in recording the lives of black Americans who were former slaves.  The year 1935 marked seventy years since the end of the Civil War.  Those persons interviewed by WPA workers were primarily in their 80s and 90s.  Some were centenarians (aged 100 or above).   Two individuals who lived in Toledo and who attended Third Baptist Church were interviewed – Julia King and Hannah Davidson.  Both of their interviews provide a wealth of information about slavery, escaping slavery, and black history in Toledo.

Mrs. Julia King was approximately 80 years old when she was interviewed in 1937.  She was the wife of Toledo’s first black police officer – Albert King picture below.

Albert King

At the time of her interview, Mrs. King lived at 731 Oakwood Ave.  A search on googlemaps shows that her house has been demolished as an empty lot is now at that address.

She spoke of how both of her biological daughters died, one as an infant and one at 13 years of age.  Black children in Toledo had high mortality rates in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  During the time of the interview, Mrs. King lived with her adopted daughter Elizabeth KING KIMBREW (KIMBROUGH).

In her interview she spoke of how she was the first black “colored juvenile officer” in the city of Toledo.  She worked in this position for 20 years.  The first 3 years she did it on a volunteer basis and was not paid for her work.

Mrs. King’s maiden name was Julia WARD.  She was born in Louisville, Kentucky to Samuel and Matilda WARD.  She had a sister named Mary WARD who was about 1.5 years older than she was.  Her parents were slaves in Kentucky.  Her father ran away via the Underground Railroad to Canada and left her mother, herself, and her sister in Kentucky.

Later, Mrs. King’s mother also decided to run away and join Samuel in freedom.  Mrs. King spoke of how her mother was happy that on the day that she planned to run away, Matilda’s mistress decided not to take Mary to the market with her.  The mistress usually had Mary accompany her to the market.  Matilda was prepared to run away and leave Mary behind, but due to the mistresses decision, she took both Julia and Mary to freedom.

They made it all the way to Detroit via boat and then went up to Windsor to meet Mrs. King’s father, who had been working there as a cook. They eventually settled in Detroit and she spent her childhood there prior to moving to Toledo.

In her narrative, Mrs. King also relates lots of information about the conditions faced by slaves on their plantation and about a song her mother sang to her.  The WPA had a specific list of questions that they were supposed to ask their interviewees and one was to ask them to sing a song from their childhood.  During the 1930s there was a large interest in black folk music for anthropological study and the interviews reflect this interest.

Mrs. King mentioned that she was a member of Third Baptist church and was drawn to the church due to them having a requirement of an “immersing baptism.”  She also mentioned that she was involved with national colored women’s clubs and had met Booker T. Washington and his wife and had heard a reading of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poems in Toledo.  Dunbar lived in Toledo for about a year while he was ill with tuberculosis, an extremely common disease in the late 19th and early 20th century.  He would eventually succomb to the condition as did many of my own family members.

I loved Mrs. King’s interview.  Mostly due to the wealth information obtained from her recount of the escape from slavery, a topic which is now a heavy focus for historical research.  I also loved that she seemed to come alive to me, mostly due to my favorite quote from her interiew when she was asked about Frederick Douglass (as mentioned a man I thoroughly love)

“The only thing I had against Frederick Douglas was that he married a white woman.”  LOL!  I thought it hilarious that she exhibited the same feelings many people have about interracial marriages even today amongst older black women.

That said, Mrs. King seemed like a formidable woman.  She had been through a lot and it is amazing to me that she went to the same church that my family attended.  I had read Mrs. King’s interview prior to my step great-grandmother passing away and asked her if she knew Mrs. King and Mrs. Davidson, another former slave interviewed in Toledo.  She said she knew of them at church and had seen both but didn’t know them personally since they were older members and she was just a young woman during this time period.  It is fascinating to me that she knew actual slaves and I knew her.  She only recently died in 2008.  This goes to show that we are not as far removed from slavery as we think we are.

The Story of Mrs. Julia King – Toledo Ohio

GENEALOGICAL INFORMATION ABOUT JULIA WARD KING AND FAMILY

A review of records from www.familysearch.org showed the following in regards to Mrs. King’s listed family members from her narrative:

Mary WARD born appx 1856 in Kentucky, died in Detroit, MI in 1891 – listed parents were Samuel and Matilda WARD (Michigan Deaths 1800-1995)

Julia KING born appx 1856 in Kentucky, died in Toledo, OH in 1938 (one year after interviewed – they made it in time!) – listed parents were Samuel WARD and Matilda MACALVIN, listed spouse Albert KING (Ohio Deaths 1908-1953) buried at Forrest Cemetery

Albert McKinney KING born 1/21/1851 in Toronto, Canada, died in Toledo, OH 1934

Samuel WARD born appx 1830, died in Detroit, MI 1890 (Michigan Deaths 1867-1897)

Matilda WARD born 8/3/1844, died in Toledo, OH 1916 lived at 731 Oakwood Ave, buried at Forrest Cemetery (Ohio Deaths 1840-2001)

Marriage record of Betty(Elizabeth) KING KIMBROUGH (spelled KIMBREW in the narrative) married on 8/12/1935 to Samuel KIMBROUGH both were divorced at time of marriage and this was the second marriage for both parties

Marriage record of Elizabeth KING married on 9/14/1928 to John LYTLE.  This was the first marriage of both parties.  Elizabeth KING listed as 21 years of age at date of marriage.

Marriage record of Albert KING and Julia WARD married on 10/20/1875 in Toledo, Ohio

 

Part 1: Researching Black American Genealogy – How I got started

Many black Americans today are interested in learning more about the history of their families, including those of us here in Toledo.

I always have been a self-proclaimed “history nerd.”  Black history has always been a passion.  I grew up here in Toledo and am a product of Toledo Public Schools.  I felt that I received an adequate, “All American” education in our public school system even though many people here gripe about the state of TPS.  I recently moved back here to my hometown and being away for over 15 years has showed me that all in all, we have pretty good schools and the curriculum here is much better than other larger cities, especially in the southeast where I lived during my time away.

That said, I didn’t learn a lot about black history in TPS.  Mostly just during “Black History Month.”  During February, we primarily learned about the same people every year – Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and various sports figures like Jackie Robinson.  Only the “firsts” it seems were important during Black History Month.  I learned nothing of local black history until I saw a special on our local PBS station – Channel 30.  I didn’t grow up in the Central City.  I have been told that the schools in that area did focus more on black history but the majority of my school years were spent in the Old South End schools of Westfield, Jones Jr. High, and Libbey where I graduated from high school in the late 1990s.

Luckily I was a voracious reader.  I read “Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave” when I was around 9 or 10 years old and it made me obsessed with black American history.  I’ll speak on my odd love affair with the great Mr. Douglas at another time, I’m sure but we’ll save that for later.

I read every “narrative” I could find at our wonderful library system here in Toledo after reading Douglass’ book.  I read all I could on slavery in general.  I read about black people in America and the system of indentured servitude.  Everything was and is still pretty fascinating.

My mother made me watch “Roots” every year on TV and when I was around 12 or 13, I finally paid attention to it and became intrigued and wondered if I could find out about my own family and trace us back to Africa.

Unfortunately, like the majority of black Americans, my family was not aware of any old African ancestors.  We had no passed down Mandika  words.  So I began my research by badgering my older relatives about our family history.  I know I particularly got on my grandmother’s nerves while helping her remodel her home in the Old West End when I was a teenager.  She finally told me that many of the answers to my questions were “none of my business.”  But she did give me a couple picture books that belonged to her mother of which I still have in my possession.  And she told me of her parents lives and her grandparents who she remembered and even a great grandparent who she said was an “Indian.”  (Us black folks always have an “Indian in the family.”  This will be discussed later as well).

Luckily I was born during the internet age.  We got “America Online” service in my home on a black Hewlett Packard that I thought was super “techy” in 1995 or 1996.  I found a site that listed Ohio death certificates and looked up all the last names I had gathered from my maternal grandmother and my paternal great grandmother.  I found the Social Security Death Index.  I found a lot of different people but could not 100% connect them to my own family.

I found ancestry.com back when it was free and developed my first family tree around 1999 when I was 20 years old.  I went all the way back to the 1870 census on multiple branches of my tree which today is even more simple to accomplish given the large amount of free information available online for us to peruse.