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Black Symbols: Extraordinary Achievements by Ordinary Women Mrs. Fannie B. Williams by Jacqueline Burnside This article pays tribute to the his- extraordinary achievements. Information tory of black women by recognizing about the work of particular women in a few ordinary women who have made history is difficult to locate and many 11 times no written record was kept. Traditionally , thecontributions ofmostwomen, if recorded for posterity, were written through the feats and accomplishments of their men. In searching for information about women, especially when written by women about themselves, the researcher must examine letters, diaries and sometimes the society pages of newspapers in addition to the usual historical sources. My task was made more difficult by the fact that I have chosen to study black women in a particular historical era. I have selected six southern black women whose lives extend from the nineteenth century antebellum years of the War Between the States to the twentieth century era of world wars. In describing the lives of six black women amidst this background of political uncertainty, I want to present four ideas that I think are common threads connecting their lives to one another. Briefly, these are the four ideas: 1)Awareness of social control. There are various ways by which women are discouraged from using their talents and skills to achieve self-improvement and become leaders for social reform. 2)Self-esteem. In developing a sense of self-identity, each person must believe in herselfas worthy ofrecognition and dignity. 3)Service. Having the courage to act upon an opinion that one's family exists in alargercommunity thatextends far beyond one's home or region. 4)Use of symbols in communications. Onehas tobe willingand able to redefine old words and create new meanings based on ideals of social equality and justice. While my research task was made difficult because my topic was black women; it was also simplified because these six women were part of a small group of approximately twohundredblackstudents who attended classes with a similar number of white students in Kentucky after the War Between the States ended in 1865. This education of white students with black students was referred to as "Racial Coeducation." In the former slaveholding south, this type of racial mixing was a bold experiment rarely sustained except at one private school, Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky. Berea College was originally founded by Reverend John G. Fee in 1855. The school was dedicated to Christian principles of antirum, anticaste prejudice, and antisectarianism. Although some care had been taken by its abolitionist founders to select a friendly site, Berea was often regarded with suspicion by many neighboring residents. In the aftermath ofJohn Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1859, local antiabolition sentiments grew so hostile that Berea school families were forced (by armed escorts) out of Kentucky altogether. They went into exile in Ohio. After the War, most of the original families returned to start a school "for all persons of good character." Among the original families who returned were Reverend John G. Fee and wife Matilda Hamilton; they had moved back to Berea in 1864 before the war was over. Fee divided his time between Berea (Madison County) and Camp Nelson (Jessamine County) where a colored refugee camp was being established along with the training station for the Union Army's black recruits. He started teaching these former slaves-turned-soldiers to read but there were thousands eager to learn. Fee needed more teachers to assist him. At his request, the American Missionary Association (AMA) sent other missionaries to Camp Nelson. However, all these teachers were white and Fee wanted to hire some black teachers as well. While preaching at a church in Danville (Boyle County), Fee met Miss E. Belle Mitchell, a fair complexioned black woman of 18 years, who had been educated in Ohio. Fee persuaded her parents, former slaves who nad bought their freedom before the War, to let her come to 12 Camp Nelson to teach the freedmen under the pay of AMA. Unfortunately, Belle's Camp Nelson experience was of short duration due to the prejudicalreactions on thepartofmany of the white teachers. They did not mind that she taught...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5081
Print ISSN
0363-2318
Pages
pp. 11-16
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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