First Freedom

Source Type: Other
Author: Peter Kolchin

Negro teachers made a mayor contribution to black education. Throughout the Reconstruction (and post-Reconstruction) black teachers played an increasingly important role, but ody were active from the very introduction of the freedmen’s schools in 1865. At first, they were frequently used as assistants so white teachers in the large schools of Mobile and Montgom-ery,’ In the capital city, the only school in existence in 1863 was run by a Northern white man, who was assisted “merely by inex. perienced and very poorly educated colored young men.” The white teacher added that “[these young men, however, are very energetic and promising persons.” He spent a portion of each day giving them pedagogical instructions, and as a result concluded, “I have, I think, brought on my school of beginners nearly as well as though I had had more experienced help. 56, Other Negroes served as the primary or only teachers in schools. In the little blackbelt village of Gainsville, Richard Burke, a black minister sixty years old – and a future state legisIator conducted a school attended by twenty-two pupils. All of them paid tuition, and all were at the alphabet and primer level. 57 In Wetumpka, a blackbelt town not far from Montgom-ery, William V. Turner, also a future state legislator, taught both a day and a night school. 58 At first, black teachers were especially numerous during the summer, when Northern whites often went home for vacation. In June 1866 in Mobile, for example, ten of thirteen teachers were Negroes. 59 Black teachers were especially prevalent in the Sunday school usually referred to as Sabbath schools that sprang up across the state. These schools gave instruction in elementary education as well as religious subjects, and many Negroes who could not afford the time to go to school every day did attend Sunday.