Short History of the American Negro - Benjamin Brawley

Self-Help in Negro Education

135. The Beginnings. As has already been seen in connection with the matter of the education of the Negro before the Civil War, in more than one place in what is now the Middle West private schools were organized and supported by manumitted Negroes who had gone thither several decades before the era of freedom. In 1838 there were in Philadelphia thirteen private pay schools for Negroes, several of these being taught by Negroes; and as early as 1835 one such school was opened by a Negro woman in New Orleans. Such efforts as these were praiseworthy, but they were of course disconnected and frequently short-lived. It was in connection with the churches that the principle of Self-Help in Negro Education received the best exemplification. Most of the first Negro schools were fostered by the churches, and many of the first Negro teachers were also preachers. Even to-day in the South church buildings are frequently used as school houses; and both the Baptists and the Methodists are doing aggressive educational work.

136. African Methodist Episcopal Schools.—The African Methodist Episcopal Church, which took the lead among Negroes in educational work, began its endeavors in this direction as early as 1844 with the purchase of 120 acres of land in Ohio for the Union Seminary, which was opened in 1847. In 1856 this church united with the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) in establishing in Greene County, Ohio, Wilberforce University, which in 1863 became the sole property of the A.M.E.. At the close of the Civil War the ministers of this church were sent to the South and were successful in organizing churches and schools. To-day they maintain twenty schools and colleges—one or more in each Southern state, two in Africa, and one in the West Indies. These had at last accounts over 200 teachers, 6,000 pupils, and school property valued at more than $1,200,000. The latest statistics show that Wilberforce is still the foremost of these institutions, and that other prominent ones are Morris Brown University, Atlanta, Ga.; Western University, Quindaro, Kan.; Allen University, Columbia, S. C.; Paul Quinn College, Waco, Texas, and Kittrell College, Kittrell, N. C. In a consideration of Self-Help on the part of Negroes the method of raising money for these schools is important. Each church has a local education society. The third Sunday in September is set apart as Education Day, when a general collection is taken in all the churches. In a recent year this amounted altogether to a little more than $51,000. Besides this, each member is taxed eight cents a year for the general education fund, which is reported at the annual conference. The total income from all sources for the educational work of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is not less than $150,000 a year.

137. Other Methodist Institutions. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church operates twelve institutions, four of which are colleges, one a theological school, and seven secondary schools. There are 150 teachers with more than 4,000 students; and in a recent year more than $100,000 was raised by the church for educational work. The principal institution is Livingstone College, Salisbury, N. C. The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, while it does not operate so many schools as the larger denominations, in proportion to its membership probably surpasses all other churches in exemplifying the principle of self-help. Its chief institutions are Lane College, Jackson, Tenn.; Miles Memorial College, Birmingham, Ala.; and the Mississippi Industrial College, Holly Springs, Miss. The church also contributes to the support of Paine College, Augusta, Ga. The African Methodist Protestant Church has three small schools. Negroes have also contributed in large measure to the support of Methodist Episcopal missionary schools; but for these of course it is impossible to arrive at definite statistics.

138. Baptist Schools.—The educational work of the Negro Baptists is still largely under the control of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, which owns and operates the foremost institutions. In recent years, however, there has been a widespread movement among Negro Baptists to do educational work independently. This has resulted in the founding of a large number of schools, altogether about 120. These are of course too many, and they range in efficiency all the way from a fairly well established institution like Selma University to a school operated by a small association. These institutions are frequently forced to take the place of public high schools, and almost without exception they are inadequately equipped. Their rapid development, however, is indicative of the spirit of self-help. Where there is such variety of status, accurate statistics are impossible; but all these schools taken together enroll about 30,000 students and employ about 700 teachers. Prominent institutions are: in Alabama, Selma University; in Arkansas, Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock; in Florida, Florida Baptist College in Jacksonville, and Florida Institute in Live Oak; in Georgia, Americus Institute in Americus, Walker Baptist Institute in Augusta, Jeruel Academy in Athens, and Central City College in Macon; in Kentucky, State University in Louisville; in South Carolina, Morris College in Sumter, and Seneca Institute in Seneca; in Texas, Guadaloupe College in Seguin, and Central Texas College in Waco; in Tennessee, Howe Institute in Memphis, and the new Roger Williams University in Nashville; and in Virginia, Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg. As nearly as can be estimated, the Negro Baptists in their churches alone raised for their educational work in 1907 $149,332.75.

Aside from the eight schools considered in a former chapter, the American Baptist Home Mission Society contributes in a smaller degree to twenty other institutions. The word of the Secretary of this organization may be taken as summing up what the Negro Baptists have done for themselves: "We are sometimes told that it is about time for the Negroes to do something toward their own education, and some members of our churches seem to believe that their missionary money boards and clothes the thousands of pupils in attendance at the twenty-eight schools of the Home Mission Society. The following facts entirely refute these assertions: During the ten years ending March 31, 1907, pupils paid for tuition $300,517.62; for board $954,822.01, and Negro churches and individuals gave for the support of the work or for new buildings to supplement the gifts of their Northern friends, $197,995.70. This makes a total of $1,453,335.33 paid or given by the Negroes for ten years, or $145,333.53 annually. It should be remembered that this is only a small part of the vastly larger amount contributed by these people for education, for all through the South many associations have their own denominational schools, and sacrifices are made for their maintenance which reflect credit upon the race which is so rapidly coming forward. The Negro presidents and principals are showing unusual wisdom in collecting funds for their work. Negro churches, too, are taking a great interest in these mission schools. The gifts from the Home Mission Society are hastening the day of still larger efforts from those benefited."

139. Self-Help in the Public Schools.—As early as 1869 General Howard reported that the recently emancipated freedmen had in one year raised for the construction of schoolhouses and the support of teachers not less than $200,000. Since 1870 common school education has been conducted chiefly by states, and the Negroes' contributions have been mainly through taxes, though not exclusively so. Though there is no authoritative source from which may be drawn accurate conclusions, it is very probable that the Negroes have paid for the entire amount of public school education which they have received from the Southern states since 1870. This does not mean, however, that the direct taxes on the property of the Negroes have been sufficient to pay for their common school education, for they have not. But neither have the direct taxes on the property of the white people been sufficient to pay for their common school education. In Georgia, when everything is considered, it becomes evident that the Negroes are in no sense a burden on the white taxpayers, and that although they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to white people as rent for their real estate, they do not receive one cent from the taxes on this property for their education. What is true of Georgia is true of every other Southern state. In 1889 the Superintendent of Public Instruction in North Carolina, addressing the school officers of the state, said: "Do you know, that including the poll tax, which they actually pay, fines, forfeitures, and penalties, the Negroes furnish a large proportion of the money that is applied to their schools?" In 1900 the Superintendent of Education of Florida wrote: "The education of the Negro of Middle Florida does not cost the white people of that section one cent. The presence of the Negro has actually been contributing to the maintenance of the white schools. The schools for Negroes not only are no burden upon the white citizens, but $4,527.00 contributed for Negro schools from other sources was in some way diverted to the white schools." As late as 1904 moreover, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joyner of North Carolina showed in his annual report that the Negroes were "in no danger of being given more than they were entitled to by every dictate of justice, right, wisdom, humanity, and Christianity."

140. Negro Philanthropy.—The Negro race is yet poor. Already, however, there have been many individuals who have given considerable sums to education. Only a few, however, can be mentioned. Bishop Payne gave several thousand dollars to Wilberforce, and Wheeling Gant gave $5,000. From the estate of Mary E. Shaw Tuskegee received $38,000. In Baltimore Nancy Addison left $ 15,000 and Louis Bode $30,000 to the Community of Oblate Sisters of Providence. George Washington, of Jerseyville, Ill., a former slave, left $15,000 for the education of Negroes. There have been two gifts to education, however, that are remarkable because they were unusually large and because they were made by Negroes of whom the world at large knew but little until the time of their death. Thomy Lafon, of New Orleans, left $413,000 to charitable and educational institutions in that city, without distinction of color; and Col. John McKee, of Philadelphia, who died in 1902, left about a million dollars in real estate for education. Mme. C. J. Walker in 1919 also left bequests aggregating thousands of dollars.

141. Negro Teachers.—The first teachers of the Negroes were almost all white people. In 1867 the Freedmen's Bureau reported 1,056 Negro teachers, and in 1870 1,324. In 1908 nearly all the public schools for Negroes in the South were in the hands of Negro teachers, the great majority of whom were graduates of normal or high school courses in missionary institutions. In the colleges, as Negroes have become more and more efficient, the tendency has been to give them larger and larger responsibilities. In the Methodist Episcopal Church the Senior Secretary having charge of the schools of the Freedman's Aid Society is a Negro, and his organization has in recent years appointed several Negroes to the presidency of important schools. Twelve years ago the American Baptist Home Mission Society made the departure of promoting a Negro to the presidency of one of its chief institutions, Morehouse College; and more recently it has pursued a similar policy in the case of Jackson College. In Biddle University, the largest school of the Presbyterians, and the St. Paul Normal and Industrial School at Lawrenceville, Va., one of the most prominent institutions of the Episcopalians, Negro men have been given the conduct of affairs. The schools of the American Missionary Association have sometimes drawn their professors from the graduates of Negro institutions; but this organization has not yet followed the other large missionary societies in appointing a Negro to the presidency of one of its leading colleges. The A.M.E. and A.M.E. Zion schools have of course had Negro teachers all along; and Howard University has also had Negroes in important places since the beginning.

142. Conclusions.—In the light of what has been said we may make the following observations:

  1. It is probably true that the Negroes pay a larger percentage of the cost of their schools than any other group of poor people in America.
  2. The Negroes have paid in direct property and poll-taxes more than $60,000,000 during the last fifty years.
  3. The Negroes have contributed at least $24,000,000 to education through their churches.
  4. The Negro student probably pays a larger percentage of the running expenses of the institutions which he attends than any other student in the land.
  5. There are at present at work 32,000 Negro teachers, 20,000 ministers, and 400 newspapers and magazines and other agencies of self-help.