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Education and Its Role in Seeking Equality for Former Slaves

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Two Hundred Forty-six. This number represents the number of years that Africans spent as slaves in America. During this time-period, slaves would endure physical and mental abuse designed to keep them as a source of free labor primarily in the American South. It would take a Civil War which proved to be the deadliest war in America’s history for slaves to gain their freedom. After the Civil War slaves found themselves in an unprecedented situation. No longer under the control of Southern plantation owners, what were there plans for a new future of freedom? With this newly earned freedom what was the next step for slaves? I will examine education and its role in seeking equality for former slaves.

As I began exploring the role of education I analyze my first source an article written by David Tyack and Robert Lowe, The Constitutional Moment: Reconstruction and Black Education in the South.[1]

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The authors focus their research on the participants involved in establishing an education system for Blacks in the South during the Reconstruction Era. The article also discusses the different methods used by each group to create an educational system. Although a system was developed for blacks this article details some of the obstructions that were faced in the creation of an educational platform in the South.

When it comes to developing their topic, I think the authors did a great job in describing the different parties who were in favor of the pro-education process, which included Blacks, former Abolitionist, and Republican Lawmakers. I also thought the article went in-depth detailing the various reasons that each group felt that establishing an educational system was necessary to the South. I did have questions as to what part these differences may have played in this process and if it had any bearing on Southerners regaining control over government. The article also gives examples of different locales throughout the South that faced similar obstacles to obtaining free and equal education for the children of the South. I believe that the reason the author researched this topic was to show the correlation between education and equality.

I would have to say that the method of study used was qualitative. I believe that an article such as this, the qualitative method would be your choice for conducting research. Primarily because the researcher is relying on historical documents to support their topic and these documents may be the best source to demonstrate what the actual participants may have been thinking. As I continued to read the article I realized that the author does show a bias in their article. The article focuses on the reasons why education was important to pro-education groups from that time-period it does not give equal evidence to support why White Southerners were opposed to an education system that included Blacks. I do not think the authors purposely left out views of these White Southerners, I just think the focus of the article was to document the move to create an educational platform for Blacks in the South.

I shift my attention on the results of the authors’ conclusion and if they have included evidence to support their conclusion. In the epilogue, the authors suggest that law is being used as an instrument of inequality in the South in terms of educational opportunities for African Americans. In this case I would define the results as any example that shows how lawmakers used the law to create inequality and more specifically what law was created that caused inequality.

In the beginning of the article, the authors give examples as how Radical Republicans and freed Blacks used their influence to create an educational foundation in the early stages of Reconstruction. The authors demonstrate this by including evidence of the legislation that was passed such as the requirement of Confederate States to include a provision in their state constitutions that would establish a free and public education system. The article while it does mention different means as to how Southern Whites began the discrepancy in school systems between blacks and whites, it does not in my opinion give ample citations to clearly demonstrate this.

In the conclusion for this article, Tyack and Lowe tell us that law is used by the will of the people who control legislation and Southern Whites used the law to strengthen

the inequalities that existed prior to Reconstruction. This sentiment can be summed up when they write “Law responds to the demands placed on the legal system by the groups that constitute society and thus provides a map of patterns of power”.[2] I think this statement reinforces the citations that the authors use by showing us how groups that were pro-education in the South used their influence to create legislation that sought education as a means for African Americans to establish equality. The article also cites examples of how Radical Republicans made the inclusion of a provision that would require Confederate States to include a free and public education system as criteria for readmission to the Union. These provisions show us that at that point of time the lawmakers were able to create law that would help in leveling out the inequalities that existed in the South. I feel the article is a contrast to the authors’ conclusion, I feel the article primarily gives evidence to the ability and desire of pro-education group’s creation of an equal educational system.

In my research, looking at other articles that dealt with the pursuit of education among former slaves, I find that most other writers agree that the period of Reconstruction was a small opportunity of time that was available to setup an educational system that would truly help ex-slaves reach a level of equality in America. In its failure to do so, African Americans saw their access to the political arena minimized and subsequently remain under a Southern mentality that resembled pre-Civil War era.

The second source that I chose to examine is an article written by Ronald E. Butchart and Amy F. Rolleri, Secondary Education and Emancipation: Secondary Schools for Freed Slaves in the American South, 1862-1875.[3] The research for this article focuses on the creation of higher education for blacks, curriculum being taught, and the proliferation of higher education institutions in the American South. In doing their research the authors do a great job of detailing the development of institutions of higher education and the differences in the curriculum being taught. By discussing the curriculum that is being taught, Butchart and Rolleri display specific subject matter that was important to former slaves, such as teacher training and ministerial education. This research clearly points out the demand for education that existed throughout the South. By discussing the curriculum being offered, Butchart and Rolleri reinforce the argument of Tyack and Lowe and their assertion behind the reasoning of former slaves seeking education.

The authors use a qualitative method of research evidenced by incorporating the themes of pioneers of black higher education and outlining the reasons for creating institutions can be clearly shown when Butchart and Rolleri write, “creating institutions of secondary and higher education spoke to a longing for autonomy and freedom from white control. To train teachers and ministers was to prepare leadership for their own people”.[4] The authors also include an appendix which list the dates when institutions for black higher education were established, this use of qualitative research strengthens the writers’ argument for the demand of education by showing the rapid growth by which these institutions were being opened. Another example of the qualitative research that was conducted is by going into detail of the various types of institutions that were available for freedmen and how the curriculum being taught varied. The limitations of the research can best be summed up by Butchart and Rolleri when they write “while historians have detailed the South’s history of emerging systems of primary schooling and of black higher education during the Civil War and Reconstruction, black secondary education as a specific institutional form has been ignored.”[5] Here the author admits that there has not been significant studies which examine this topic, however I would have liked to hear the authors’ opinion as to why this topic is ignored and the importance of researching it.

The author provides ample amount of evidence to support their conclusions. Education was highly sought after by former slaves and the curriculum offered by higher institutions of learning clearly supports their topic. I do find it worth mentioning that the authors mentions the differences that exist in the groups that were establishing the educational institutions. As mentioned in the previous source, the African American, the radical Republican and the different philanthropist all had their different reasons as to creating an educational platform for the former slaves.

Former slaves wanting a better way of life is no secret, it is a comment that should be obvious to anyone reading it. The fact that former slaves would choose education as a vehicle to gaining equality is worth noting. It is interesting that an uneducated people would see education as a necessary tool to even the playing field. The fact that a people who were subjected to slavery for such a long period of time could organize themselves and setup a framework of education in such a short period of time is truly amazing. Even though American Southerners would eventually curtail a lot of the progress made by freedmen, the establishment of an educational would create an avenue in which former slaves could better themselves. I would argue that had freedmen been giving the opportunity to continue the process of creating education and receive equal funding of all the public education the debates that we continue to have today over racial equality may not exist.

  1. Tyack, David, and Robert Lowe. The Constitutional Moment: Reconstruction and Black Education in the South. American Journal of Education 94, no. 2 (n.d.): 236-256. SocINDEX with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed January 24, 2018).
  2. Tyack, David, and Robert Lowe. The Constitutional Moment: Reconstruction and Black Education in the South. American Journal of Education 94, no. 2 (n.d.): 236-256.
  3. Butchart, Ronald E., and Amy F. Rolleri. 2004. Secondary Education and Emancipation: Secondary Schools for Freed Slaves in the American South, 1862-1875. Paedagogica Historica: International Journal Of The History Of Education 40, no. 1-2: 157-181. ERIC, EBSCOhost (accessed January 27, 2018).
  4. Butchart, Ronald E., and Amy F. Rolleri. 2004. Secondary Education and Emancipation: Secondary Schools for Freed Slaves in the American South, 1862-1875. Paedagogica Historica: International Journal Of The History Of Education 40, no. 1-2: 157-181.
  5. Butchart, Ronald E., and Amy F. Rolleri. 2004. Secondary Education and Emancipation: Secondary Schools for Freed Slaves in the American South, 1862-1875. Paedagogica Historica: International Journal Of The History Of Education 40, no. 1-2: 157-181. ERIC, EBSCOhost (accessed January 27, 2018).

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