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............................................................................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................................................................. Chapter Six Race, Reconstruction, and Redemption The Fate of Emancipation and Education, 1861–1876 Fear has driven o√ some of our teachers. H. C. Vogell, 1870 Education is a reality with the freedmen now, a fixed fact. We have no quaint or rapturous expressions of thanksgiving or wonder to narrate, as when schools were first opened, and we introduced books with their mysteries. Schools are a system; we have classes like those in other regulated institutions. Cordelia Jennings Attwell, 1870 They bitterly shut the door of their new schoolhouse and turn away to their toil, feeling that they have not only been bereaved but wronged. Ralza M. Manly, 1870 From slavery through Reconstruction and into Redemption, African Americans fought tenaciously for literacy. Enslaved blacks risked fearsome punishment to read and write;∞ at the dawn of freedom, the black quest for schooled knowledge flowered brilliantly. Even before formal emancipation, and at an accelerated pace thereafter, the freed people built schools, recruited teachers from among the literate in their own communities, welcomed anyone else willing to teach them, and filled the schools to overflowing. Black school attendance surged; secondary and higher institutions for the freed people multiplied. In many southern states in the late 1860s, newly minted state departments of education, the fruits of southern interracial politics, geared up to assure free schooling to all southern children, black and white.≤ Yet that promising dawn did not usher in a bright new day of educa- 154 Race, Reconstruction, and Redemption tional, social, and political possibilities. Threatening clouds formed early, auguring a storm of reaction, retrenchment, and repression. Within three to four years after their ambitious beginnings, state education bureaucracies were reduced to skeletal structures on eroded foundations. Schools closed; school years were halved; teachers went unpaid. The number of southern white teachers in the black schools rose, though the number of black teachers rose faster, but the growth in teachers for black schools remained woefully behind demand. Only the most fearless of the northern white teachers had the courage and commitment to weather the storm. Systematic educational discrimination sprouted in the storm’s eerie aftermath. Historians have described the process of constructing unequal southern education as almost exclusively legislative and political, what Henry Allen Bullock described as ‘‘the chain of legal containment.’’ As part of the white South’s e√ort to restore home rule, Democratic hegemony, and white supremacy during Reconstruction, Redeemers promised black voters that public education would not be abolished under their rule. Once in power, they honored the letter of their promise, retaining state-funded education, though they dismantled the educational bureaucracies created under Republican governments and slashed state school budgets. Still, in the early years of Democratic rule, the funding cuts were relatively equal across white and black schools. Only after the disfranchisement campaigns of the 1880s and 1890s, and after the New South men began to replace the older Bourbon Democrats, did legislatures across the South begin to devise means to assure the greater prosperity of white schools at the expense of black schools.≥ The assault on educational opportunity did not begin with late nineteenth-century legislative actions, however, nor even with the political chicanery of the 1870s that resulted in the retrenchment of the school bureaucracies that had worked to extend the reach of public education in the middle years of Reconstruction. It began earlier, at the moment of emancipation. It was not only, nor even primarily, an attack on educational opportunity. It was, rather, an assault on a dream, the dream of black independence and freedom through education, the dream of the fullest emancipation through literacy and knowledge. The assault began as soon as the freed people began to act on the dream. White terrorism, systematic, organized, and relentless, targeted the dream with deadly accuracy. The South lost the battles of the Civil War, surrendering its armies and losing slavery and the goal of Confederate independence, but there was no peace treaty after Appomattox, no armistice, and there was no peace. Over the Race, Reconstruction, and Redemption 155 subsequent decade the South fought a new war on new terrain with new strategies, holding fast to its most fundamental institution. The South won that war, the war to retain white supremacy.∂ Crushing the most liberatory aspects of black education was crucial in the South’s ultimate victory. Unbridled white resistance, violence, and terror, dating from the beginning of the education of the freed people, took an incalculable psychological and physical toll on the southern black...

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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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