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Preface If there is one constant in historical writing, it is revision. Each generation of writers brings its own perspectives and troubles to bear on the past, finds new material, and reinterprets old sources. The result is new understandings of old stories, new images and portraits, revised pictures of the past. Reconstruction’s history bears dramatic evidence of that process. Attentive readers of that history have moved the earlier images of the actors and processes of Reconstruction to dusty mental storage rooms, replacing them with new, often starkly di√erent images. Reviled villains have been redrawn as tragic victims; heroic causes have been revealed as ignoble, murderous treachery. Yet in one corner of Reconstruction historiography, the history of the schooling of the freed people, interpretations have shifted, but the portraits of the primary actors have been only lightly retouched after a century of historical study. Whether their history was captured by W. E. B. Du Bois, by historians in the Dunning tradition, or by revisionists of the last three decades, the foreground of that picture has remained remarkably unchanged. While each historiographic tradition has intended something di√erent by the exact shadings and details of the portrait it rendered, the main figures in the portrait have been largely untouched in the process. W. E. B. Du Bois sketched the most enduring elements of the educators’ image. Describing what he called ‘‘the crusade of the New England schoolma ’am,’’ he wrote, ‘‘Behind the mists of ruin and rapine waved the calico dresses of women who dared. Rich and poor they were, serious and curious. Bereaved now of a father, now of a brother, now of more than these, they came seeking a life work in planting New England schoolhouses among the white and black of the South.’’∞ Several of the salient elements of the teachers’ enduring portrait were etched deep in that poetic description: the teachers were New England schoolmarms, a description that implied that x Preface they were young, white, single, female, well educated; they were endowed with particular regional character traits of New Englanders whose interpretation shifted depending on the standpoint of the viewer. Meanwhile, southern historians associated with the Dunning school of interpretation, contemporaries of Du Bois, began work on the same portrait . They painted a darker, more sinister background against which to set the teachers and filled in a middle ground that suggested that these New England schoolmarms were naive, foolish, or despicable. Summarizing much of his own scholarship and that of other southern historians, Edgar W. Knight described the teachers as part of a ‘‘ ‘messianic’ invasion of the South’’ whose blind zealotry resulted in ‘‘much insane intolerance’’ in the region.≤ Henry Lee Swint, author of the most exhaustive study of the freedmen’s teachers published before 1980, characterized the teachers as predominantly from New England and, as a necessary consequence, abolitionist fanatics and impractical visionaries when not simply incompetents, frauds, and malingerers.≥ In the Dunning rendition, the mood, tone, texture, and quality of the portrait shifted dramatically from that produced by Du Bois, yet the foreground figures remained largely unchanged. The teachers were young, single, white women from New England, of evangelical Protestant roots and abolitionist convictions. Since the teachers gave months or years to the freed people, the early writers imagined that they were from privileged homes. While Du Bois rendered them selfless and noble, southern historians portrayed them as fanatical meddlers at worst, foolish idealists at best.∂ They were drawn south to find husbands, to enjoy a respite from harsh New England winters, or because they were too incompetent to teach in northern schools. Wilbur Cash added an ad hominem flourish to the picture, describing the teachers as ‘‘horsefaced, bespectacled, and spare of frame.’’∑ A subsequent generation of historians dissented sharply from those writing within the tradition of William A. Dunning. The revisionists painted out the dark, foreboding background and redrew the middle ground. Gone were images of fanaticism, zealotry, and retribution. Though one revisionist perspective portrayed teachers who were engaged in a slightly suspect ‘‘domestication of the South,’’∏ the dominant portrayals by the revisionists were positive, if often cast in martial metaphors—the teachers were ‘‘soldiers of light and love,’’ ‘‘gentle invaders,’’ an ‘‘army of civilization.’’π More often, they were the champions of black literacy, if too often racist.∫ But the foreground, the image of the teachers themselves, shifted only Preface xi marginally. Revisionists more clearly delineated the teachers’ privileged middle-class background, a≈rmed their New England roots, and established their...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469604930
Related ISBN
9780807834206
MARC Record
OCLC
966902865
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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