Antebellum Education

Topics: African American, Black people, Race and Ethnicity Pages: 6 (1932 words) Published: April 25, 2014
Matt Giacona
Prof. Blumberg
3/17/14

With education being critical to success in essentially every aspect of modern life, it interests me greatly it’s history and development, especially concerning the antebellum period. The problems with minority education we see today have roots in this era, and I believe that the schooling of African-americans pre-civil war is a topic that many modern researchers, historians, and policy-makers overlook increasingly as time goes by. African-american education was stifled for a long duration of antebellum America. North Carolina was the first colony to enact legislation attempting to prevent the education of slaves in 1740, imposing a 100 pound fine on anyone caught teaching one how to write. This type of legislation was passed in many colonies (mostly southern). It was enacted primarily by white slaveholders and landowners who feared rebellion and insurrection in hopes that lacking the ability to write and communicate would cut slaves off from one another, preventing organized fighting. It was not until 1837, with the founding of Cheyney University in Pennsylvania by Richard Humphreys, that ex-slaves and freemen had a place to study higher education. I am interested in what type of African-americans attended early schools like this one (runaways, freedmen, born free), what advantages it gave them, and how it affected their upward social mobility. I hypothesize that those who attended these institutions were largely free-born, northern blacks from the northeast United States, and that higher education was the only tangible method of breaking away in any capacity from the racism, prejudice, and depressed social status of blacks in American society at the time. In order to understand education’s effect on a minority race however, I must first look at statistics and data related to the relationship between higher education and the majority, whites. After seeing what opportunities it provided to an untethered race it will then give my research appropriate context and a better gauge of the effects and benefits it had on a tethered one. In summation, my research goals will focus primarily on two questions. To what extent did higher education affect African-americans’ social status as individuals and as a race? And what were the intraracial implications of higher education? Did it, and if so, to what extent, stratify the African-american race along lines of gender? Through my current research, it would seem that education was valuable tool, but often still not enough to improve social standing against the gradient of racism, and that the suppression of women in this period ensured a social gap between black men and black women involving education and gender. Hillary J. Moss’ Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America examines three case studies intended to display the failures, successes, and consequences of antebellum education for African-americans. Moss places herself in a very complex position on the subject, as she examines three varied and at times contradictory case studies. The case study I drew the most from was about New Haven, Connecticut, which details the frequent futility of attempting to attend a higher institution. What I found here was that blacks attempting to earn acceptance were usually turned away due to lack of high school transcripts and preparation, and those that did have adequate marks to attend university were usually not accepted (Moss 45). This vicious circle created a situation in which it was impossible for most blacks to achieve upward class mobility due to the lack of prior social status that would allow them to reach the next level of education. Many tried to ameliorate this problem through the creation of black universities and colleges, and although many places of higher learning began developing at an increased rate going into the 1840’s, increased racial tension in the years leading up to the civil war caused...
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