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[Detail] Experience and personal narrative of Uncle Tom Jones...1858

The Education of African Americans

The education system in America was one facet of life in need of attention after the Civil War. As A.D. Mayo explains in “The New Education in the New South,” educators didn’t have much to work with in the South in 1865:

Their endowments were gone; their teachers dead or dispersed; the foremost people too poor to send their children from home to school; and five millions emancipated slaves, wholly untaught, and several millions of poor white people, deplorably ignorant of letters, were flung upon society.

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To educate people in the South in the late-nineteenth century, the government was now obligated to teach both races. A search on education provides an overview of the American education system as it developed in the late-nineteenth century. Pieces such as Richard R. Wright’s “A Brief Historical Sketch of Negro Education in Georgia,” which describe the state’s efforts in educating African Americans from 1865 to 1895.

As late as 1904, however, some people questioned the need to educate African Americans at all. Booker T. Washington’s 1904 address, “Negro Education Not a Failure,” challenges claims from politicians “that it does not pay, from any point of view, to educate the Negro; and that all attempts at his education have so far failed to accomplish any good results,” (page 5). Washington notes that almost all of the schools educating African-American students have been filled to capacity since the end of the Civil War. With this thirst for education, Washington explains, “the Negro, according to official records, has blotted out 55.5 per cent of his illiteracy since he became a free man,” (page 6). This progress, however, is only one step in the right direction:

[T]he fact that with all the Negro is doing for himself, with all the white people in the South are doing for themselves, and despite all that one race is doing to help the other, the present opportunities for education are woefully inadequate for both races. In the year 1877-8 the total expenditure for education in the ex-slave states was a beggarly $2.61 per capita for whites and only $1.09 for blacks; on the same basis the U. S. Commissioner of Education reasons that for the year 1900--1, $35,400,000 were spent for the education of both races in the South, of which $6,000,000 went to Negroes, or $4.92 per capita for whites and $2.21 for blacks; on the same basis, each child in Massachusetts has spent upon his education $22.35 and each one in New York $20.53, yearly.

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  • What financial and social obstacles faced education in the South?
  • Why do you think that more education money was allocated for whites than blacks?
  • Why do you think that more money for education was available for Northern states? Was additional money being spent on something else in the South or do you think there just weren’t as many funds for education?
  • Do you think that the disparity between economic conditions in the North and South was a result of Reconstruction policies?
  • How does the education system in the North and South compare to other aspects of life in the late nineteenth century?