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.