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National Expansion and Reform
Pre-Civil War African-American Slavery
Report of the Board of Education for Freedmen

The following excerpts are from a Report of the Board of Education for Freedmen, Department of the Gulf in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1864. The document describes the difficulties that the Union army experienced in trying to deal with the slaves that were freed as a result of Union military action in Louisiana. What does the report suggest about the difficulties of establishing public schools for the recently freed slaves? According to the report, what kinds of schooling did slaves have in this area before Union armies liberated them?

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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.

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.
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