restricted access 2. To Serve My Own People: Black Teachers in the Southern Black Schools
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............................................................................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................................................. Chapter Two To Serve My Own People Black Teachers in the Southern Black Schools I believe we best can instruct our own people, knowing our own peculiarities—needs—necessities. Further—I believe, we, that are competent owe it to our people to teach them as our specialty. Hezekiah Hunter, 1865 And now I think it my duty to fight for my race against the great foe of ignorance wielding with my willing right hand, the pen & from my mouth speak forth words for their elevation & education. George W. Bryant, 1867 I myself am a Colored woman, bound to that ignorant, degraded, long enslaved race, by ties of love and consanguinity: they are socially and politically ‘‘my people.’’ Sarah G. Stanley, 1864 Richard H. Wells was born enslaved in Virginia but was sold to a Florida slave owner at some point before the Civil War. He was in his thirties when he and nearly 170 other slaves on James Kirksey ’s properties were freed. Kirksey was a wealthy merchant in Tallahassee , though, given the size of his slave holdings, he doubtlessly was also a planter. It is possible that Wells gained his literacy from Kirksey while enslaved, or, like many literate slaves, he may have appropriated his learning on his own. By whatever means he had learned to read, he established a black school in Tallahassee within a year of the end of the war. Two years later, he won election as a delegate to the 1868 Florida constitutional convention and represented Leon County in the state House of Represen- 18 To Serve My Own People tatives from 1868 to 1872. He taught in his Tallahassee school for two decades or more.∞ Samuel H. Smothers was also born in Virginia, within two or three years of Wells, though his early years could hardly have been more di√erent from the other man’s. Where Wells was born enslaved and taken to Florida, Smothers was apparently born free. At some point before 1860, he moved from Virginia to Indiana, graduated from the interracial Union Literary Institute of Randolph County, Indiana, began teaching in the Quaker community of New Garden, Indiana, and married a young black woman. After serving in the U.S. Colored Troops during the war, he was discharged in Texas. Three years later, he moved his family to Louisiana to open a school for the freed people in Shreveport. He subsequently moved to Texas, where he continued teaching the children and grandchildren of the freed people for more than three decades.≤ Before Smothers had established his family in Indiana, Beverly Harris, a blackcookandcarpenterinMonroe,Michigan,decidedtorelocatetoOberlin , Ohio, in order to give his children the advantages of an education at the nation’s leading interracial college. His oldest daughter, Blanche Harris, graduatedfromOberlin’sliteraryprogramin1860;thenextyounger,Elizabeth E. Harris—Lizzie—attended Oberlin but did not graduate; the youngest , Emmerett, who went by Frankie Emma, graduated from Oberlin in 1870. All three worked in southern black schools. Blanche began in 1863 in Virginia. Lizzie followed two years later for one year in Mississippi before returning to her studies, then going to North Carolina and Virginia with Blanche in the late 1860s and 1870s. Frankie Emma taught with her older sisters for one year before she graduated, then went with Blanche to Knoxville , where both sisters became principals; Blanche taught there to 1890. Lizzie began teaching again in 1878 in North Carolina, where she continued to 1908. Frankie Emma left Knoxville in 1874 to teach in Mississippi , North Carolina, Missouri, and Kansas, including two faculty assignments in black colleges. All three women married in the 1870s but continued to teach. Together, the Harris women gave a total of more than one hundred years to southern black education, Frankie Emma accounting for fifty-four years herself.≥ the language that scholars employ to describe southern black schooling in the 1860s and 1870s—freedmen’s education—often implies a passive process, something done to and for the freed people. The implied actors are northern white teachers and the benevolent organizations that To Serve My Own People 19 supported them. In most accounts, the role of the freed people often appears to have been limited to gratefully accepting the gift of literacy provided by others.∂ For scholars writing in the last few decades there usually was no intention of diminishing African Americans, and some writers attempted to document the contributions of blacks to freedmen’s education, though none grasped the size of the black teaching corps in the first generation of...


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