Excerpt from "Report of the Board of Education for Freedmen"
Report of the Board of education for freedmen, Department of the Gulf, for the year 1864.
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REPORT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION FOR FREEDMEN,
DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
FOR THE YEAR 1864.
NEW ORLEANS: PRINTED AT THE OFFICE OF THE TRUE DELTA. 1865.
Office of the Board of Education for Freedmen, )
Department of the Gulf, ..........
February 28, 1865. ..........
Major General S. A. Hurlbut,
Commanding Department of the Gulf:
General--In complaince with your order, we have the honor to submit the following Report of the Board of Education for Freedmen, Department of the Gulf.
The Report relates the operations of the Board from the date of its organization, March 22d, 1864, to December 31st, same year--a period of nine months.
COLORED SCHOOLS IN NEW ORLEANS.
When, in April, 1862, the guns of Farragut transferred the city of New Orleans from rebel to national rule, no such thing as a "Public School" for colored children, was found in the schedule of the conquest.
No such thing had ever existed in the Crescent City. Even that portion of the colored population, who, for generations, had been wealthy and free, were allowed no public school, although taxed to support the school-system of the city and State. Occasionally a small donation was made from the public fund to a school for orphans, attached to the Colored Orphans' Asylum.
The children of the free colored people who were in good circumstances, known as "Creoles," generally of French or Spanish extraction, when not educated abroad, or at the North, or from fairness of complexion, by occasional admission to the white schools, were quietly instructed at home, or in a very few private schools, of their class.
Even these, although not contrary to law, were really the ban of opinion, but were tolerated, because of the freedom, wealth, respectability and light color of the parents, many of whom were nearly white, and by blood, sympathy, association, slaveholding, and other interests, were allied to the white rather than to the black.
For the poor, of the free colored people, there was no school.
To teach a slave the dangerous arts of reading and writing, was a heinous offence, having, in the language of the statute, "a tendency to excite insubordination among the servile class, and punishable by imprisonment at hard labor for not more than twenty-one years, or by death, at the discretion of the Court."
In the face of all obstacles, a few of the free colored people, of the poorer class, learned to read and write. Cases of like proficiency were found among the slaves, where some restless bondsman, yearning for the knowledge, that somehow he coupled with liberty, hid himself from public notice, to con over, in secret and laboriously, the magic letters.
In other cases, limited teaching of a slave was connived at, by a master, who might find it convenient for his servant to read.
Occasionally, the slave was instructed by some devout and sympathizing woman or generous man, who secretly violated law and resisted opinion, for the sake of justice and humanity.
A single attempt had been made to afford instruction, through a school, to the poor of the colored people, by Mrs. Mary D.Brice, of Ohio, a student of Antioch College, who, with her husband, both poor in money, came to New Orleans in December, 1858, under a sense of duty, to teach colored people.
So many and great were the obstacles, that Mrs. Brice was unable to begin her school until September, 1860. At that time she opened a "school for colored children and adults," at the corner of Franklin and Perdido streets.
The popular outcry obliged her to close the school in June, 1861.
Subsequently receiving, as she believed, a divine intimation that she would be sustained, Mrs. Brice again opened her school in November following, near the same place; afterwards removing to Magnolia street, on account of room.
Under Confederate rule, she was repeatedly "warned" to desist teaching.
The gate-posts in front of her house were covered at night by placards, threatening "death to nigger teachers."
When forced to suspend her school, Mrs. Brice stole round at night, especially on dark and rainy nights, the more easily to elude observation, to the houses or resorts of her pupils, and there taught the eager learners, under every disability of mutual poverty, often of sore need, in face of imprisonment, banishment, or possible death.
Upon the occupation of the city by our forces, her school was preserved from further molestation, rather by the moral sentiment of the army than by any direct action; for so timid or prejudiced were many of our commanders, that long after that time General Emory sent for the Rev. Thomas Conway, to admonish him not to advocate,
publicly, the opening of schools for colored children, as it would be very dangerous!
The school of Mrs. Brice continued to thrive, and subsequently passed under the Board of Education, in whose employ she is now an efficient and honored Principal.
The advent of the Federal army weakened slavery, and suspended the pains and penalties of its bloody code, and a few private teachers began to appear, in response to the strong desire of the colored people for instruction.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR COLORED PEOPLE.
No public schools were established until October, 1863. The great work was fairly begun by the "Commission of Enrollment," created by order of Major General Banks, commanding Department of the Gulf.
In February, 1864, was published General Order No. 23, of Gen. Banks, known as the "Labor Order." That order bridged the chasm between the old and the new. By it the laborer, although a slave, was permitted to choose his employer. The governing power was shifted from the planter to the Provost Marshal.
In addition to food, clothing, quarters, fuel, medical attendance and wages, instruction for his children was promised the colored man by the Government. ....
DIFFICULTIES ATTENDING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF COUNTRY SCHOOLS.
It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the difficulty of establishing these schools in the country parishes.
Considering the expense and the probability of change in the school districts, the Board decided not to build school-houses at present, but to avail themselves of such accommodations as could be found.
The parish Provost Marshals were directed to seize and turn over to the Board all buildings designated by our agents as essential to the schools, taking care not to incommode or irritate any one, beyond the necessities of the case.
Any hesitancy to act, or indifference on the part of the Marshals, was met forthwith by the Provost Marshal General in the shape of a peremptory order, or by the prompt removal of the refractory subordinate. By this means the first obstacles were overcome. Had the Board received from the same office a continuance of the active interest in these schools manifested by General Bowen during his incumbency, we should have had, at this time, at least three thousand additional pupils.
Cabins, sheds, unused houses, were appropriated, roughly repaired, fitted with a cheap stove for the winter, a window or two for light and air a teacher sent to the locality, the neighboring children gathered in, and the school started.
In some of the parishes, so great was the difficulty of obtaining boarding places for our teachers--notwithstanding the efforts of agents and Provost Marshals--that a special order or circular letter was published, (see Appendix D,) by which many of the teachers were provided with temporary homes. But it frequently occurs, that in a desirable locality for a school, it is impossible to obtain boarding for the teachers. In such cases, a weather-proof shelter of some kind--very poor at best--is obtained, some simple furniture provided, and a teacher sent who is willing to undergo the privations--often hardships-of boarding herself, in addition to the fatigues of her school,
Compelled to live on the coarsest diet of corn bread and bacon; often no tea, coffee, butter, eggs, or flour; separated by miles of bad
roads from the nearest provision store; refused credit because she is a negro teacher, unable to pay cash because the Government is unavoidably in arrears; subjected to the jeers and hatred of her neighbors; cut off from society, with unfrequent and irregular mails; swamped in mud--the school shed a drip, and her quarters little better; raided occasionally by rebels, her school broken up and herself insulted, banished, or run off to rebeldom; under all this, it is really surprising how some of these brave women manage to live, much more how they are able to render the service they do as teachers.
Despite all the efforts of our agents, the assistance of the Provost Marshals, and the devotion of the teachers, many of these schools would have to be abandoned but for the freedmen themselves. These, fully alive to all that is being done for them, gratefully aid the teachers from their small store, and mount guard against the enemy of the schools, whether he be a rebel, a guerilla, or a pro-slavery professed unionist skulking behind the oath.