Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Black Women Abolitionists/Educators (part 3)

These reformers recognized that prejudice was difficult to overcome. Lacy Laney felt racism was a result of the blacks' ignorance. She believed if black society became educated, whites would accept them. Not all abolitionists agreed with Laney. As an example; Sarah Douglass proclaimed, "in proportion as we become intellectual and respectable, so in proportion does their disgust and prejudice increase." It was her opinion that whites felt threatened by intelligent blacks. Peter Paul Simons spoke before the African Clarkson Association of New York City in April 1839. In his speech,, Simons denied education as a useful tactic to fight injustice. According to Simons, whites proclaimed education would elevate blacks, when in reality white society denied intelligent blacks high positions and forced blacks to settle for menial jobs. As a result of this view, abolitionists began to shift towards more forceful, energetic, and aggressive tactics. However, Frances Harper warned that reformers should not overlook an effective strategy:

"To teach our people how to build up a character for themselves–a character that will challenge respect in spite of opposition and prejudice; to develop their own souls, intellect and genius, and thus verify their credentials, is some of the best anit-slavery work that can be done in this country."

After the war, Frances Harper found great ambition among the freedmen. She wrote of former slaves who had prospered to the point of purchasing the estates of their former masters. The desire for education among the freedmen was overwhelming. Every city Harper visited required more teachers than were available.

Ann Plato cited Aristotle as claiming "knowledge was equal to power." Power therefore also depended on education. The National Convention of Black Leaders delcared that education would "elevate us from our present situation." It also proclaimed, "If we ever expect to see the influence of prejudice decrease, and ourselves respected, it must be by the blessings of an enlightened education." Frances Harper entreated young black women to consecrate their lives to the elevation of their race. Education was the primary tactic for the elevation of the black race. Black leaders realized the value of education in gaining respect, equality, and prosperity. The large nummber of freedmen schools indicated that other blacks agreed.

Lucy Laney saw a future for women as professors of higher education, not merely elementary teachers. She encouraged women to speak out, to give advice, and to share their knowledge. Black female abolitionists believed that an enlightened people were an elevated and free people. By 1893, 25,530 colored schools* existed in the United States. These schools served 1,353,352 pupils and 22,956 black teachers.

As impressive as those numbers appeared, Lucy Laney realized the work ahead when she stated, "but, oh, large as this number seems, it is small when we think of the many hundreds to whom scarecely a ray of light has yet come!"

Finally, these words by Charlotte Forten Grimke** show the amount of hope the freedmen exhibited in the years following emancipation:

"Let us take courage; never ceasing to work–hoping and believing that if not for us, for another generation there is a better, brighter day in store–when slavery and prejudice shall vanish before the glorious light of Liberty and Truth; when the rights of every colored man shall everywhere be acknowledged and respected, and he shall be treated as a man and a brother."

* Schools were primarily segregated until after 1954 with the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

** Charlotte Forten Grimke was born free in Philadelphia. Her grandfather was a free man who established a thriving business as a sail maker. As a young woman, she journeyed to the south immediately after the Civil War in order to establish schools. She kept a detailed journal. She later married one of the freed slaves (Frances Grimke). Charlotte and Frances became best friends to Anna Julia Cooper (who is my favorite little-known person in history).

2 response(s):

Kathy said...

I find your posts fascinating, Heidi. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

amy greenway said...

I've loved these postings. I also read the link to Anna Cooper. 5 kids and still had the determination finish her doctorate against the desires of the academic world! Very inspiring.

Thank you!