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The Education Of The Negro Prior To 1861
Chapter IX - Learning in Spite of Opposition
by Woodson, Carter Godwin


Discouraging as these conditions seemed, the situation was not entirely hopeless. The education of the colored people as a public effort had been prohibited south of the border States, but there was still some chance for Negroes of that section to acquire knowledge. Furthermore, the liberal white people of that section considered these enactments, as we have stated above, not applicable to southerners interested in the improvement of their slaves but to mischievous abolitionists. The truth is that thereafter some citizens disregarded the laws of their States and taught worthy slaves whom they desired to reward or use in business requiring an elementary education. As these prohibitions in slave States were not equally stringent, white and colored teachers of free blacks were not always disturbed. In fact, just before the middle of the nineteenth century there was so much winking at the violation of the reactionary laws that it looked as if some Southern States might recede from their radical position and let Negroes be educated as they had been in the eighteenth century.

The ways in which slaves thereafter acquired knowledge are significant. Many picked it up here and there, some followed occupations which were in themselves enlightening, and others learned from slaves whose attainments were unknown to their masters. Often influential white men taught Negroes not only the rudiments of education but almost anything they wanted to learn. Not a few slaves were instructed by the white children whom they accompanied to school. While attending ministers and officials whose work often lay open to their servants, many of the race learned by contact and observation. Shrewd Negroes sometimes slipped stealthily into back streets, where they studied under a private teacher, or attended a school hidden from the zealous execution of the law.

The instances of Negroes struggling to obtain an education read like the beautiful romances of a people in an heroic age. Sometimes Negroes of the type of Lott Carey[1] educated themselves. James Redpath discovered in Savannah that in spite of the law great numbers of slaves had learned to read well. Many of them had acquired a rudimentary knowledge of arithmetic. "But," said he, "blazon it to the shame of the South, the knowledge thus acquired has been snatched from the spare records of leisure in spite of their owners' wishes and watchfulness."[2] C.G. Parsons was informed that although poor masters did not venture to teach their slaves, occasionally one with a thirst for knowledge secretly learned the rudiments of education without any instruction.[3] While on a tour through parts of Georgia, E.P. Burke observed that, notwithstanding the great precaution which was taken to prevent the mental improvement of the slaves, many of them "stole knowledge enough to enable them to read and write with ease."[4] Robert Smalls[5] of South Carolina and Alfred T. Jones[6] of Kentucky began their education in this manner.
[Footnote 1: Mott, "Biographical Sketches", p. 87.]

[Footnote 2: Redpath, "Roving Editor", etc., p. 161.]

[Footnote 3: Parsons, "Inside View", etc., p. 248.]

[Footnote 4: Burke, "Reminiscences of Georgia", p. 85.]

[Footnote 5: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 126.]

[Footnote 6: Drew, "Refugee", p. 152.]
Probably the best example of this class was Harrison Ellis of Alabama. At the age of thirty-five he had acquired a liberal education by his own exertions. Upon examination he proved himself a good Latin and Hebrew scholar and showed still greater proficiency in Greek. His attainments in theology were highly satisfactory. "The Eufaula Shield", a newspaper of that State, praised him as a man courteous in manners, polite in conversation, and manly in demeanor. Knowing how useful Ellis would be in a free country, the Presbyterian Synod of Alabama purchased him and his family in 1847 at a cost of $2500 that he might use his talents in elevating his own people in Liberia.[1]
[Footnote 1: "Niles Register", vol. lxxi., p. 296.]
Intelligent Negroes secretly communicated to their fellow men what they knew. Henry Banks of Stafford County, Virginia, was taught by his brother-in-law to read, but not write.[1] The father of Benedict Duncan, a slave in Maryland, taught his son the alphabet.[2] M.W. Taylor of Kentucky received his first instruction from his mother. H.O. Wagoner learned from his parents the first principles of the common branches.[3] A mulatto of Richmond taught John H. Smythe when he was between the ages of five and seven.[4] The mother of Dr. C.H. Payne of West Virginia taught him to read at such an early age that he does not remember when he first developed that power.[5] Dr. E.C. Morris, President of the National Baptist Convention, belonged to a Georgia family, all of whom were well instructed by his father.[6]
[Footnote 1: Drew, "Refugee", etc., p. 72.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., p. 110.]

[Footnote 3: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 679.]

[Footnote 4: Ibid., p. 873.]

[Footnote 5: Ibid., p. 368.]

[Footnote 6: This is his own statement.]
The white parents of Negroes often secured to them the educational facilities then afforded the superior race. The indulgent teacher of J. Morris of North Carolina was his white father, his master.[1] W.J. White acquired his education from his mother, who was a white woman.[2] Martha Martin, a daughter of her master, a Scotch-Irishman of Georgia, was permitted to go to Cincinnati to be educated, while her sister was sent to a southern town to learn the milliner's trade.[3] Then there were cases like that of Josiah Settle's white father. After the passage of the law forbidding free Negroes to remain in the State of Tennessee, he took his children to Hamilton, Ohio, to be educated and there married his actual wife, their colored mother.[4]
[Footnote 1: This is based on an account given by his son.]

[Footnote 2: "The Crisis", vol. v., p. 119.]

[Footnote 3: Drew, "Refugee", p. 143.]

[Footnote 4: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 539.]
The very employment of slaves in business establishments accelerated their mental development. Negroes working in stores often acquired a fair education by assisting clerks. Some slaves were clerks themselves. Under the observation of E.P. Burke came the notable case of a young man belonging to one of the best families of Savannah. He could read, write, cipher, and transact business so intelligently that his master often committed important trusts to his care.[1] B.K. Bruce, while still a slave, educated himself when he was working at the printer's trade in Brunswick, Missouri. Even farther south where slavery assumed its worst form, we find that this condition obtained. Addressing to the New Orleans "Commercial Bulletin" a letter on African colonization, John McDonogh stated that the work imposed on his slaves required some education for which he willingly provided. In 1842 he had had no white man over his slaves for twenty years. He had assigned this task to his intelligent colored manager who did his work so well that the master did not go in person once in six months to see what his slaves were doing. He says, "They were, besides, my men of business, enjoyed my confidence, were my clerks, transacted all my affairs, made purchases of materials, collected my rents, leased my houses, took care of my property and effects of every kind, and that with an honesty and fidelity which was proof against every temptation."[2] Traveling in Mississippi in 1852, Olmsted found another such group of slaves all of whom could read, whereas the master himself was entirely illiterate. He took much pride, however, in praising his loyal, capable, and intelligent Negroes.[3]
[Footnote 1: Burke, "Reminiscences of Georgia", p. 86.
Frances Anne Kemble gives in her journal an interesting account of her observations in Georgia. She says: "I must tell you that I have been delighted, surprised, and the very least perplexed, by the sudden petition on the part of our young waiter, Aleck, that I will teach him to read. He is a very intelligent lad of about sixteen, and preferred his request with urgent humility that was very touching. I will do it; and yet, it is simply breaking the laws of the government under which I am living. Unrighteous laws are made to be broken--perhaps--but then you see, I am a woman, and Mr.---- stands between me and the penalty--. I certainly intend to teach Aleck to read; and I'll teach every other creature that wants to learn." See Kemble, "Journal", p. 34.]

[Footnote 2: McDonogh, "Letter on African Colonization."]

[Footnote 3: Olmsted, "Cotton Kingdom", vol. ii., p. 70.] White persons deeply interested in Negroes taught them regardless of public opinion and the law. Dr. Alexander T. Augusta of Virginia learned to read while serving white men as a barber.[1] A prominent white man of Memphis taught Mrs. Mary Church Terrell's mother French and English. The father of Judge R.H. Terrell was well-grounded in reading by his overseer during the absence of his master from Virginia.[2] A fugitive slave from Essex County of the same State was not allowed to go to school publicly, but had an opportunity to learn from white persons privately.[3] The master of Charles Henry Green, a slave of Delaware, denied him all instruction, but he was permitted to study among the people to whom he was hired.[4] M.W. Taylor of Kentucky studied under attorneys J.B. Kinkaid and John W. Barr, whom he served as messenger.[5] Ignoring his master's orders against frequenting a night school, Henry Morehead of Louisville learned to spell and read sufficiently well to cause his owner to have the school unceremoniously closed.[6]
[Footnote 1: "Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed.", 1871, p. 258.]

[Footnote 2: This is based on the statements of Judge and Mrs. Terrell.]

[Footnote 3: Drew, "Refugee", p. 335.]

[Footnote 4: Ibid., p. 96.]

[Footnote 5: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 933.]

[Footnote 6: Drew, "Refugee", p. 180.]
The educational experiences of President Scarborough and of Bishop Turner show that some white persons were willing to make unusual sacrifices to enlighten Negroes. President Scarborough began to attend school in his native home in Bibb County, Georgia, at the age of six years. He went out ostensibly to play, keeping his books concealed under his arm, but spent six or eight hours each day in school until he could read well and had mastered the first principles of geography, grammar, and arithmetic. At the age of ten he took regular lessons in writing under an old South Carolinian, J.C. Thomas, a rebel of the bitterest type. Like Frederick Douglass, President Scarborough received much instruction from his white playmates.[1]
[Footnote 1: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 410.]
Bishop Turner of Newberry Court House, in South Carolina, purchased a spelling book and secured the services of an old white lady and a white boy, who in violation of the State law taught him to spell as far as two syllables.[1] The white boy's brother stopped him from teaching this lad of color, pointing out that such an instructor was liable to arrest. For some time he obtained help from an old colored gentleman, a prodigy in sounds. At the age of thirteen his mother employed a white lady to teach him on Sundays, but she was soon stopped by indignant white persons of the community. When he attained the age of fifteen he was employed by a number of lawyers in whose favor he ingratiated himself by his unusual power to please people. Thereafter these men in defiance of the law taught him to read and write and explained anything he wanted to know about arithmetic, geography, and astronomy.[2]
[Footnote 1: Bishop Turner says that when he started to learn there were among his acquaintances three colored men who had learned to read the Bible in Charleston. See Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 806.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., p. 806.]
Often favorite slaves were taught by white children. By hiding books in a hayloft and getting the white children to teach him, James W. Sumler of Norfolk, Virginia, obtained an elementary education.[1] While serving as overseer for his Scotch-Irish master, Daniel J. Lockhart of the same commonwealth learned to read under the instruction of his owner's boys. They were not interrupted in their benevolent work.[2] In the same manner John Warren, a slave of Tennessee, acquired a knowledge of the common branches.[3] John Baptist Snowden of Maryland was secretly instructed by his owner's children.[4] Uncle Cephas, a slave of Parson Winslow of Tennessee, reported that the white children taught him on the sly when they came to see Dinah, who was a very good cook. He was never without books during his stay with his master.[5] One of the Grimké Sisters taught her little maid to read while brushing her young mistress's locks.[6] Robert Harlan, who was brought up in the family of Honorable J.M. Harlan, acquired the fundamentals of the common branches from Harlan's older sons.[7] The young mistress of Mrs. Ann Woodson of Virginia instructed her until she could read in the first reader.[8] Abdy observed in 1834 that slaves of Kentucky had been thus taught to read. He believed that they were about as well off as they would have been, had they been free.[9] Giving her experiences on a Mississippi plantation, Susan Dabney Smedes stated that the white children delighted in teaching the house servants. One night she was formally invited with the master, mistress, governess, and guests by a twelve-year-old school mistress to hear her dozen pupils recite poetry. One of the guests was quite astonished to see his servant recite a piece of poetry which he had learned for this occasion.[10] Confining his operations to the kitchen, another such teacher of this plantation was unusually successful in instructing the adult male slaves. Five of these Negroes experienced such enlightenment that they became preachers.[11]
[Footnote 1: Drew, "Refugee", p. 97.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., p. 45.]

[Footnote 3: Ibid., p. 185.]

[Footnote 4: Snowden, "Autobiography", p. 23.]

[Footnote 5: Albert, "The House of Bondage", p. 125.]

[Footnote 6: Birney, "The Grimké Sisters", p. 11.]

[Footnote 7: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 613.]

[Footnote 8: This fact is stated in one of her letters.]

[Footnote 9: Abdy, "Journal of a Residence and Tour in U.S.A.", 1833-1834. P. 346.]

[Footnote 10: Smedes, "A Southern Planter", pp. 79-80.]

[Footnote 11: Ibid., p. 80.]
Planters themselves sometimes saw to the education of their slaves. Ephraim Waterford was bound out in Virginia until he was twenty-one on the condition that the man to whom he was hired should teach him to read.[1] Mrs. Isaac Riley and Henry Williamson, of Maryland, did not attend school but were taught by their master to spell and read but not to write.[2] The master and mistress of Williamson Pease, of Hardman County, Tennessee, were his teachers.[3] Francis Fredric began his studies under his master in Virginia. Frederick Douglass was indebted to his kind mistress for his first instruction.[4] Mrs. Thomas Payne, a slave in what is now West Virginia, was fortunate in having a master who was equally benevolent.[5] Honorable I.T. Montgomery, now the Mayor of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, was, while a slave of Jefferson Davis's brother, instructed in the common branches and trained to be the confidential accountant of his master's plantation.[6] While on a tour among the planters of East Georgia, C.G. Parsons discovered that about 5000 of the 400,000 slaves there had been taught to read and write. He remarked, too, that such slaves were generally owned by the wealthy slaveholders, who had them schooled when the enlightenment of the bondmen served the purposes of their masters.[7]
[Footnote 1: Drew, "A North-Side View of Slavery", p. 373.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., p. 133.]

[Footnote 3: Ibid., p. 123.]

[Footnote 4: Lee, "Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky", p. x.]

[Footnote 5: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 368.]

[Footnote 6: This is his own statement.]

[Footnote 7: Parsons, "Inside View", etc., p. 248.]
The enlightenment of the Negroes, however, was not limited to what could be accomplished by individual efforts. In many southern communities colored schools were maintained in defiance of public opinion or in violation of the law. Patrick Snead of Savannah was sent to a private institution until he could spell quite well and then to a Sunday-school for colored children.[1] Richard M. Hancock wrote of studying in a private school in Newbern, North Carolina;[2] John S. Leary went to one in Fayetteville eight years;[3] and W.A. Pettiford of this State enjoyed similar advantages in Granville County during the fifties. He then moved with his parents to Preston County where he again had the opportunity to attend a special school.[4] About 1840, J.F. Boulder was a student in a mixed school of white and colored pupils in Delaware.[5] Bishop J.M. Brown, a native of the same commonwealth, attended a private school taught by a friendly woman of the Quaker sect.[6] John A. Hunter, of Maryland, was sent to a school for white children kept by the sister of his mistress, but his second master said that Hunter should not have been allowed to study and stopped his attendance.[7] Francis L. Cardozo of Charleston, South Carolina, entered school there in 1842 and continued his studies until he was twelve years of age.[8] During the fifties J.W. Morris of the same city attended a school conducted by the then distinguished Simeon Beard.[9] In the same way T. McCants Stewart[10] and the Grimké brothers [11] were able to begin their education there prior to emancipation.
[Footnote 1: Drew, "Refugee", p. 99.]

[Footnote 2: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 406.]

[Footnote 3: Ibid., p. 432.]

[Footnote 4: Ibid., p. 469]

[Footnote 5: Ibid., p. 708.]

[Footnote 6: Ibid., 930.]

[Footnote 7: Drew, "Refugee", p. 114.]

[Footnote 8: Simmons, "Men of Mark", 428]

[Footnote 9: Ibid., p. 162]

[Footnote 10: Ibid., p. 1052]

[Footnote 11: This is their own statement.]
More schools for slaves existed than white men knew of, for it was difficult to find them. Fredrika Bremer heard of secret schools for slaves during her visit to Charleston, but she had extreme difficulty in finding such an institution. When she finally located one and gained admission into its quiet chamber, she noticed in a wretched dark hole a "half-dozen poor children, some of whom had an aspect that testified great stupidity and mere animal life."[1] She was informed, too, that there were in Georgia and Florida planters who had established schools for the education of the children of their slaves with the intention of preparing them for living as "good free human beings."[2] Frances Anne Kemble noted such instances in her diary.[3] The most interesting of these cases was discovered by the Union Army on its march through Georgia. Unsuspected by the slave power and undeterred by the terrors of the law, a colored woman by the name of Deveaux had for thirty years conducted a Negro school in the city of Savannah.[4]
[Footnote 1: Bremer, "The Homes of the New World", vol. ii., p. 499.]

[Footnote 2: "Ibid.", p. 491; Burke, "Reminiscences of Georgia", p. 85.]

[Footnote 3: Kemble, "Journal", etc., p. 34.]

[Footnote 4: "Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed.", 1871, p. 340.]
The city Negroes of Virginia continued to maintain schools despite the fact that the fear of servile insurrection caused the State to exercise due vigilance in the execution of the laws. The father of Richard De Baptiste of Fredericksburg made his own residence a school with his children and a few of those of his relatives as pupils. The work was begun by a Negro and continued by an educated Scotch-Irishman, who had followed the profession of teaching in his native land. Becoming suspicious that a school of this kind was maintained at the home of De Baptiste, the police watched the place but failed to find sufficient evidence to close the institution before it had done its work.[1]
[Footnote 1: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 352.]
In 1854 there was found in Norfolk, Virginia, what the radically proslavery people considered a dangerous white woman. It was discovered that one Mrs. Douglass and her daughter had for three years been teaching a school maintained for the education of Negroes.[1] It was evident that this institution had not been run so clandestinely but that the opposition to the education of Negroes in that city had probably been too weak to bring about the close of the school at an earlier date. Mrs. Douglass and her pupils were arrested and brought before the court, where she was charged with violating the laws of the State. The defendant acknowledged her guilt, but, pleading ignorance of the law, was discharged on the condition that she would not commit the same "crime" again. Censuring the court for this liberal decision the "Richmond Examiner" referred to it as offering "a very convenient way of getting out of the scrape." The editor emphasized the fact that the law of Virginia imposed on such offenders the penalty of one hundred dollars fine and imprisonment for six months, and that its positive terms "allowed no discretion in the community magistrate."[2]
[Footnote 1: Parsons, "Inside View of Slavery", p. 251; and Lyman, "Leaven for Doughfaces", p. 43.]

[Footnote 2: "13th Annual Report of the American and Foreign Antislavery Societies", 1853, p. 143.]
All such schools, however, were not secretly kept. Writing from Charleston in 1851 Fredrika Bremer made mention of two colored schools. One of these was a school for free Negroes kept with open doors by a white master. Their books which she examined were the same as those used in American schools for white children.[1] The Negroes of Lexington, Kentucky, had in 1830 a school in which thirty colored children were taught by a white man from Tennessee.[2] This gentleman had pledged himself to devote the rest of his life to the uplift of his "black brethren."[3] Travelers noted that colored schools were found also in Richmond, Maysville, Danville, and Louisville decades before the Civil War.[4] William H. Gibson, a native of Baltimore, was after 1847 teaching at Louisville in a day and night school with an enrollment of one hundred pupils, many of whom were slaves with written permits from their masters to attend.[5] Some years later W.H. Stewart of that city attended the schools of Henry Adams, W.H. Gibson, and R.T.W. James. Robert Taylor began his studies there in Robert Lane's school and took writing from Henry Adams.[6] Negroes had schools in Tennessee also. R.L. Perry was during these years attending a school at Nashville.[7] An uncle of Dr. J.E. Moorland spent some time studying medicine in that city.
[Footnote 1: Bremer, "The Homes of the New World", vol. ii., p. 499.]

[Footnote 2: Abdy, "Journal of a Residence and Tour in U.S.A"., 1833-34, p. 346.]

[Footnote 3: "Ibid"., pp. 346-348.]

[Footnote 4: Tower, "Slavery Unmasked"; Dabney, "Journal of a Tour through the U.S. and Canada", p. 185; "Niles Register", vol. lxxii., p. 322; and Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 631.]

[Footnote 5: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 603.]

[Footnote 6: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 629.]

[Footnote 7: "Ibid.", p. 620.]
Many of these opportunities were made possible by the desire to teach slaves religion. In fact the instruction of Negroes after the enactment of prohibitory laws resembled somewhat the teaching of religion with letters during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Thousands of Negroes like Edward Patterson and Nat Turner learned to read and write in Sabbath-schools. White men who diffused such information ran the gauntlet of mobs, but like a Baptist preacher of South Carolina who was threatened with expulsion from his church, if he did not desist, they worked on and overcame the local prejudice. When preachers themselves dared not undertake this task it was often done by their children, whose benevolent work was winked at as an indulgence to the clerical profession. This charity, however, was not restricted to the narrow circle of the clergy. Believing with churchmen that the Bible is the revelation of God, many laymen contended that no man should be restrained from knowing his Maker directly.[1] Negroes, therefore, almost worshiped the Bible, and their anxiety to read it was their greatest incentive to learn. Many southerners braved the terrors of public opinion and taught their Negroes to read the Scriptures. To this extent General Coxe of Fluvanna County, Virginia, taught about one hundred of his adult slaves.[2] While serving as a professor of the Military Institute at Lexington, Stonewall Jackson taught a class of Negroes in a Sunday-school.[3]
[Footnote 1: Orr, "An Address on the Need of Education in the South, 1879."]

[Footnote 2: This statement is made by several of General Coxe's slaves who are still living.]

[Footnote 3: "School Journal", vol. lxxx., p. 332.]
Further interest in the cause was shown by the Evangelical Society of the Synods of North Carolina and Virginia in 1834.[1] Later Presbyterians of Alabama and Georgia urged masters to enlighten their slaves.[2] The attitude of many mountaineers of Kentucky was well set forth in the address of the Synod of 1836, proposing a plan for the instruction and emancipation of the slaves.[3] They complained that throughout the land, so far as they could learn, there was but one school in which slaves could be taught during the week. The light of three or four Sabbath-schools was seen "glittering through the darkness" of the black population of the whole State. Here and there one found a family where humanity impelled the master, mistress, or children, to the laborious task of private instruction. In consequence of these undesirable conditions the Synod recommended that "slaves be instructed in the common elementary branches of education."[4]
[Footnote 1: "African Repository", vol. x., pp. 174, 205, and 245.]

[Footnote 2: "Ibid.", vol. xi., pp. 140 and 268.]

[Footnote 3: Goodell, "Slave Code", pp. 323-324.]

[Footnote 4: "The Enormity of the Slave Trade, etc"., p. 74.]
Some of the objects of such charity turned out to be interesting characters. Samuel Lowry of Tennessee worked and studied privately under Rev. Mr. Talbot of Franklin College, and at the age of sixteen was sufficiently advanced to teach with success. He united with the Church of the Disciples and preached in that connection until 1859.[1] In some cases colored preachers were judged sufficiently informed, not only to minister to the needs of their own congregations, but to preach to white churches. There was a Negro thus engaged in the State of Florida.[2] Another colored man of unusual intelligence and much prominence worked his way to the front in Giles County, Tennessee. In 1859 he was the pastor of a Hard-shell Baptist Church, the membership of which was composed of the best white people in the community. He was so well prepared for his work that out of a four days' argument on baptism with a white minister he emerged victor. From this appreciative congregation he received a salary of from six to seven hundred dollars a year.[3]
[Footnote 1: Simmons, "Men of Mark", p. 144.]

[Footnote 2: Bremer, "Homes of the New World", vol. ii., pp. 488-491.]

[Footnote 3: "The Richmond Enquirer", July, 1859; and "Afr. Repository", vol. xxxv., p. 255.]
Statistics of this period show that the proportionately largest number of Negroes who learned in spite of opposition were found among the Scotch-Irish of Kentucky and Tennessee. Possessing few slaves, and having no permanent attachment to the institution, those mountaineers did not yield to the reactionaries who were determined to keep the Negroes in heathendom. Kentucky and Tennessee did not expressly forbid the education of the colored people.[1] Conditions were probably better in Kentucky than in Tennessee. Traveling in Kentucky about this time, Abdy was favorably impressed with that class of Negroes who though originally slaves saved sufficient from their earnings to purchase their freedom and provide for the education of their children.[2]
[Footnote 1: In 1830 one-twelfth of the population of Lexington consisted of free persons of color, who since 1822 had had a Baptist church served by a member of their own race and a school in which thirty-two of their children were taught by a white man from Tennessee. He had pledged himself to devote the rest of his life to the uplift of his colored brethren. One of these free Negroes in Lexington had accumulated wealth to the amount of $20,000. In Louisville, also a center of free colored population, efforts were being made to educate ambitious Negroes. Travelers noted that colored schools were found there generations before the Civil War and mentioned the intelligent and properly speaking colored preachers, who were bought and supported by their congregations. Charles Dabney, another traveler through this State in 1837, observed that the slaves of this commonwealth were taught to read and believed that they were about as well off as they would have been had they been free. See Dabney, "Journal of a Tour through the U.S. and Canada", p. 185.]

[Footnote 2: Abdy, "Journal of a Tour", etc., 1833-1834, pp. 346-348.]
It was the desire to train up white men to carry on the work of their liberal fathers that led John G. Fee and his colaborers to establish Berea College in Kentucky. In the charter of this institution was incorporated the declaration that "God has made of one blood all nations that dwell upon the face of the earth." No Negroes were admitted to this institution before the Civil War, but they came in soon thereafter, some being accepted while returning home wearing their uniforms.[1] The State has since prohibited the co-education of the two races.
[Footnote 1: Catalogue of Berea College, 1896-1897.]
The centers of this interest in the mountains of Tennessee were Maryville and Knoxville. Around these towns were found a goodly number of white persons interested in the elevation of the colored people. There developed such an antislavery sentiment in the former town that half of the students of the Maryville Theological Seminary became abolitionists by 1841.[1] They were then advocating the social uplift of Negroes through the local organ, the "Maryville Intelligencer". From this nucleus of antislavery men developed a community with ideals not unlike those of Berea.[2]
[Footnote 1: Some of the liberal-mindedness of the people of Kentucky and Tennessee was found in the State of Missouri. The question of slavery there, however, was so ardently discussed and prominently kept before the people that while little was done to help the Negroes, much was done to reduce them to the plane of beasts. There was not so much of the tendency to wink at the violation of the law on the part of masters in teaching their slaves. But little could be accomplished by private teachers in the dissemination of information among Negroes after the free persons of color had been excluded from the State.]

[Footnote 2: "Fourth Annual Report of the American Antislavery Society", New York, 1837, p. 48; and the "New England Antislavery Almanac" for 1841, p. 31.]
The Knoxville people who advocated the enlightenment of the Negroes expressed their sentiment through the "Presbyterian Witness". The editor felt that there was not a solitary argument that might be urged in favor of teaching a white man that might not as properly be urged in favor of enlightening a man of color. "If one has a soul that will never die," said he, "so has the other. Has one susceptibilities of improvement, mentally, socially, and morally? So has the other. Is one bound by the laws of God to improve the talents he has received from the Creator's hands? So is the other. Is one embraced in the command 'Search the Scriptures'? So is the other."[1] He maintained that unless masters could lawfully degrade their slaves to the condition of beasts, they were just as much bound to teach them to read the Bible as to teach any other class of their population.
[Footnote 1: "African Repository", vol. xxxii., p. 16.]
But great as was the interest of the religious element, the movement for the education of the Negroes of the South did not again become a scheme merely for bringing them into the church. Masters had more than one reason for favoring the enlightenment of the slaves. Georgia slaveholders of the more liberal class came forward about the middle of the nineteenth century, advocating the education of Negroes as a means to increase their economic value, and to attach them to their masters. This subject was taken up in the Agricultural Convention at Macon in 1850, and was discussed again in a similar assembly the following year. After some opposition the Convention passed a resolution calling on the legislature to enact a law authorizing the education of slaves. The petition was presented by Mr. Harlston, who introduced the bill embodying this idea, piloted it through the lower house, but failed by two or three votes to secure the sanction of the senate.[1] In 1855 certain influential citizens of North Carolina[2] memorialized their legislature asking among other things that the slaves be taught to read. This petition provoked some discussion, but did not receive as much attention as that of Georgia.
[Footnote 1: "Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed.", p. 339]

[Footnote 2: "African Repository", vol. xxxi., pp. 117-118.]
In view of this renewed interest in the education of the Negroes of the South we are anxious to know exactly what proportion of the colored population had risen above the plane of illiteracy. Unfortunately this cannot be accurately determined. In the first place, it was difficult to find out whether or not a slave could read or write when such a disclosure would often cause him to be dreadfully punished or sold to some cruel master of the lower South. Moreover, statistics of this kind are scarce and travelers who undertook to answer this question made conflicting statements. Some persons of that day left records which indicate that only a few slaves succeeded in acquiring an imperfect knowledge of the common branches, whereas others noted a larger number of intelligent servants. Arfwedson remarked that the slaves seldom learned to read; yet elsewhere he stated that he sometimes found some who had that ability.[1] Abolitionists like May, Jay, and Garrison would make it seem that the conditions in the South were such that it was almost impossible for a slave to develop intellectual power.[2] Rev. C.C. Jones[3] believed that only an inconsiderable fraction of the slaves could read. Witnesses to the contrary, however, are numerous. Abdy, Smedes, Andrews, Bremer, and Olmsted found during their stay in the South many slaves who had experienced unusual spiritual and mental development.[4] Nehemiah Adams, giving the southern view of slavery in 1854, said that large numbers of the slaves could read and were furnished with the Scriptures.[5] Amos Dresser, who traveled extensively in the Southwest, believed that one out of every fifty could read and write.[6] C.G. Parsons thought that five thousand out of the four hundred thousand slaves of Georgia had these attainments.[7] These figures, of course, would run much higher were the free people of color included in the estimates. Combining the two it is safe to say that ten per cent. of the adult Negroes had the rudiments of education in 1860, but the proportion was much less than it was near the close of the era of better beginnings about 1825.
[Footnote 1: Arfwedson, "The United States and Canada", p. 331.]

[Footnote 2: See their pamphlets, addresses, and books referred to elsewhere.]

[Footnote 3: Jones, "Religious Instruction of Negroes", p. 115.]

[Footnote 4: Redpath, "The Roving Editor", p. 161.]

[Footnote 5: Adams, "South-Side View of Slavery", pp. 52 and 59.]

[Footnote 6: Dresser, "The Narrative of Amos Dresser", p. 27; Dabney, "Journal of a Tour through the United States and Canada", p. 185.]

[Footnote 7: Parsons, "Inside View of Slavery", p. 248.]


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