Excerpts from The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935
by James D. Anderson
The short-ranged purpose of black schooling was to provide the masses of ex-slaves with basic literacy skills plus the rudiments of citizenship training for participation in a democratic society. The long-range purpose was the intellectual and moral development of a responsible leadership class that would organize the masses and lead them to freedom and equality. Being educated and literate had a important cultural significance to Afro-Americans, and they pursued these goals in opposition to the economic and ideological interest of the planter-dominated South. Despite what seemed like overwhelming opposition to their educational campaigns, the masses of Afro-Americans persisted in becoming literate. Their 95 percent illiteracy rate in 1860 had dropped to 70 percent in 1880 and would drop to 30 percent by 1910. The former slaves were becoming literate; the process could be slowed but it would not be stopped or reversed. (p. 31)
Of all the evaluations that could be cited, the most profound and most eloquent was penned by DuBois, who praised the early missionary philanthropists as “men radical in their belief in Negro possibility.” By 1900, DuBois continued, the black colleges supported by northern missionary and black religious organizations had “trained in Greek and Latin and mathematics, 2,000 men; and these men trained fully 50,000 others in morals and manners, and they in turn taught the alphabet to nine millions of men.” The black colleges were far from perfect, concluded DuBois, but “above the sneers of critics” stood “one crushing rejoinder; in a single generation they put thirty thousand black teachers in the South” and “wiped out the illiteracy of the majority of black people of the land.” (pp. 244–245)
COMPILERS NOTE: Scholars have pointed out that this feat had never been accomplished before in the history of mankind.