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Schooling the Freed People

Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Schooling the Freed People
    Book Description:

    Conventional wisdom holds that freedmen's education was largely the work of privileged, single white northern women motivated by evangelical beliefs and abolitionism.Schooling the Freed Peopleshatters this notion entirely.For the most comprehensive quantitative study of the origins of black education in freedom ever undertaken, Ronald E. Butchart combed the archives of all of the freedmen's aid organizations as well as the archives of every southern state to compile a vast database of over 11,600 individuals who taught in southern black schools between 1861 and 1876. Based on this path-breaking research, he reaches some surprising conclusions: one-third of the teachers were African Americans; black teachers taught longer than white teachers; half of the teachers were southerners; and even the northern teachers were more diverse than previously imagined. His evidence demonstrates that evangelicalism contributed much less than previously believed to white teachers' commitment to black students, that abolitionism was a relatively small factor in motivating the teachers, and that, on the whole, the teachers' ideas and aspirations about their work often ran counter to the aspirations of the freed people for schooling.The crowning achievement of a veteran scholar, this is the definitive book on freedmen's teachers in the South as well as an outstanding contribution to social history and our understanding of African American education.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0493-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Education, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. Chapter One At the Dawn of Freedom
    (pp. 1-16)

    At the very dawn of freedom, well before the nation moved grudgingly toward formal emancipation, southern black slaves began to forge their own destiny. From the first days of freedom, through the displacements of war, and into Reconstruction, they pursued many strategies calculated to assure their self-emancipation. During the war, they fled plantations to reach Union lines. They reconstituted families, built their own churches, negotiated contracts. And they demanded access to literacy. They raised teachers from the literate among themselves, welcomed teachers from afar, even urged former slave owners to teach them, and filled schoolhouses to overflowing. Out of their...

  6. Chapter Two To Serve My Own People Black Teachers in the Southern Black Schools
    (pp. 17-51)

    Richard H. Wells was born enslaved in Virginia but was sold to a Florida slave owner at some point before the Civil War. He was in his thirties when he and nearly 170 other slaves on James Kirksey’s properties were freed. Kirksey was a wealthy merchant in Tallahassee, though, given the size of his slave holdings, he doubtlessly was also a planter. It is possible that Wells gained his literacy from Kirksey while enslaved, or, like many literate slaves, he may have appropriated his learning on his own. By whatever means he had learned to read, he established a black...

  7. Chapter Three It Will Result in a Better Understanding of Their Duties Southern White Teachers and the Limits of Emancipation
    (pp. 52-77)

    In the spring of 1868, Josephine Stell applied to the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas for a teaching position. To make her case, she explained, “I feel interested in the education of the freed people,—the more intelligent they become, the less trouble they will give to our country, and they will be better, happier, and more useful.” When her application did not immediately prevail, she wrote to the provisional governor of Texas. She was, she informed him, “a young lady” who had attended “a fashionable boarding school” and was thus “competent to teach any of the English branches, the Latin,...

  8. Chapter Four A Desire to Labor in the Missionary Cause Northern White Teachers and the Ambiguities of Emancipation
    (pp. 78-119)

    When the American Civil War began, Mary J. Mead was living alone in the quiet college town of Hillsdale, Michigan. In the previous decade she had been widowed by the death of her attorney husband and had lost her daughter, Ella. Her husband had left her with investments sufficient to keep her comfortable—indeed, sufficient enough that the census taker in 1860 had given her the honorific of “lady” as her occupation to indicate that she did not need to work for a living. In 1864, at forty-two years of age, she accepted an invitation from the Michigan Freedmen’s Aid...

  9. Chapter Five You Will, of Course, Wish to Know All about Our School Learning and Teaching in the Freed People’s Schools
    (pp. 120-152)

    Those who worked with the freed people in their schools came from far more diverse backgrounds and carried far more divergent aims than writers have previous imagined. But what should we make of that? At one level of analysis, it should not have mattered whether the teachers of black learners were white or black, northerners or southerners, teaching in Union blue, Confederate gray, or Quaker black. Freed students in Liberty, Mississippi, in 1869 may have become as proficient in arithmetic under John Gummer, a Confederate veteran, as freed students in Liberty, Virginia, in 1867, learning arithmetic with the assistance of...

  10. Chapter Six Race, Reconstruction, and Redemption The Fate of Emancipation and Education, 1861–1876
    (pp. 153-178)

    From slavery through Reconstruction and into Redemption, African Americans fought tenaciously for literacy. Enslaved blacks risked fearsome punishment to read and write;¹ at the dawn of freedom, the black quest for schooled knowledge flowered brilliantly. Even before formal emancipation, and at an accelerated pace thereafter, the freed people built schools, recruited teachers from among the literate in their own communities, welcomed anyone else willing to teach them, and filled the schools to overflowing. Black school attendance surged; secondary and higher institutions for the freed people multiplied. In many southern states in the late 1860s, newly minted state departments of education,...

  11. Appendix A: Teachers in the Freed People’s Schools, 1861–1876
    (pp. 179-183)
  12. Appendix B: Estimating the Number of Black and Southern White Teachers, 1869–1876
    (pp. 184-188)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 189-246)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-300)
  15. Index
    (pp. 301-314)