The Man with the Dirty Black Beard: Race, Class, and Schools in the Antebellum South


The problem of poor, degraded white people in the antebellum South presented a problem to both reformers and proponents of slavery. Sharpening the differences of race meant easing those of class, ensuring that public schooling did not always receive widespread support. The cult of white superiority absolved the state of responsibility for social mobility. As better schooling was advocated for religious and civic reasons, wealthy planters determined to avoid taxes joined with their illiterate neighbors in fighting attempts at “improvement” that undermined the slave system based on the notion of black inferiority.