ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Up From Slavery: A Documentary History of Negro Education
Compiled By Rudolph Lewis
Mob force was one response
A Methodist Minister of Charleston Is “Pumped” for Teaching Negroes, 1823
I well remember the morning, 23 years ago, and the conversation, when Mr. Asbury was about to leave Charleston, and Mr. Dougherty in charge of the society. In allusion to the large number of colored Members: I leave you, said he, a flower garden and a kitchen garden, to cultivate; and, following out the similie, he pointed to him the importance of attention to the blacks. The greater pleasure would be derived from an attention to the masters; the greater advantage from attention to the slaves.
Mr. Dougherty was not satisfied with laboring for the adult slaves only; he established a school for the black children. In a letter to Mr. Asbury, he observes, I do not only suffer the reproach common to Methodist Preachers, but I have rendered myself still more vile, as “the negro schoolmaster.” His success was too great to be endured by the jealous authorities; the alarm was spread among the populace; but, as the schoolmaster would take no hint to abandon his sable pupils, the mob assembled, in great numbers on a Sunday evening, in Cumberland street, before the church.
The Preacher was forcibly hurried from the pulpit into the midst of the mob, who seem not to have made their arrangement how to dispose of their victim. A pause ensued, and while several proposals were making, a voice was heard above the rest, “to the pump”–to the pump was now the general cry.
The pump stood in Church street, near the corner of Cumberland street, not many yards distant from the church. Mr. Dougherty was hurried on towards it, by the multitude, and thrown down so as to receive its whole contents, until the phrenzy of the mob began to abate; he was then suffered to return to his lodgings, without any serious injury–and, I believe, unruffled with any unholy emotion of heart. He used to relate the event with the utmost composure, and occasional pleasantry.
The Wesleyan Repository, Vol. III (1823), pp. 162-163. Given in Addle Grace Wardie, History of the Sunday School Movement in the Methodist Episcopal Church, p.45.
Interest of the Episcopal Church in the Religious Instruction of Negroes
in Charleston, South Carolina, Is Reported, 1828
At the Anniversary Meeting of the Charleston Juvenile Protestant Episcopal Society, composed of the Teachers and children of the Episcopal Sunday Schools, held at St. Stephen’s Chapel, on Saturday the 6th December, 1828, the Exercises were commenced by Singing the io3d Hymn, when an excellent and appropriate address was delivered, by the Rev. Christian Hanckell, to the members of the Society. We have only room for the following interesting extract:
“This Church was erected expressly for the accommodation of the poor, and for those who are not able to hire pews in other Churches. To the religious instruction of these and their children, the Minister of it is entirely devoted. Now we are very anxious that the Gospel should be preached to the poor, and that the knowledge of it should be conveyed to them, through the medium of our Church, because among other reasons, we believe our Church better adapted than almost any other one, to their capacities, and to their wants.
In order to make you sensible of this, I will relate to you a very gratifying circumstance that occurred to me, only last Sunday. A negro, who can neither read nor write, belonging to a gentleman of my congregation, exhibited for some time a pious disposition, which was very pleasing to his master. This negro was in the habit of attending one of the Presbyterian Churches in this city, and requested permission from his master to become a member of it.
His master told him he was much pleased to see him religiously disposed, but would be more pleased if he became a member of his own Church, and desired him to call on me for instruction and advice. The servant though this at first a hard case, but upon reflection, he thought as his master was a religious man, it became him as a servant professing to be religious too, to pay due respect to his wishes He accordingly called upon me, and after attending my Church for some time, and receiving such private instruction from me as I was able to give him, he was baptized by me, and is now a communicant.
It is about four or five months, or perhaps longer, since he first applied, and last Sunday evening he came to me in my study, and said that he came to tell me, that he now had reason to bless God and his master too, for directing him to my Church. For said he, I have learned more since I attended your Church, than I did in all my life before. I thought your church only suited for great people, but I find by experience that the most ignorant person can there get food for their souls, better than in other places.
I asked him if my discourses were plainer than those of his former minister. He answered that he did not know, but he was sure he remembered and felt a great deal that I said. I asked him if he could tell me any thing that he had heard me say; and, to my astonishment, he reminded me of many Sermons I had preached, and of many important lessons conveyed in them.
‘But master,’ said he, ‘it is not by your preaching alone that I have learned so much. I can’t read the Bible, nor have I any one to read it to me, except at family prayers by my master, and in your Church I hear much more of it read, than I did before. Your prayers, too, are repeated in the same words every Sunday, and by this means I have learned words by which I can now pray for myself to God, and express what I feel. By hearing the Lord’s prayer so often, I have learned that too, and find in it almost every thing I want to pray for. I hear the belief also read every Sunday, and by this I have learned better than I knew before, what are the articles of the Christian faith, and what is required of me to believe. For the same reason I have learned all the Commandments, which I can now call to mind one after the other, and by repeating after each of them, “Lord have mercy upon me a miserable sinner, and incline my heart to keep this law,” I make a suitable prayer to God for pardon for my sins, and for grace to help me to keep his commandments. And by thinking over them in my mind, I am enabled to examine myself the better; and to repent of my sins one by one. Indeed, I now find that I can praise God wherever I am, and pray to him in words which exactly express what I feel and desire.’
Now these amongst others, are the reasons why we wish to send Ministers of our Church as Missionaries, to preach the Gospel to the poor.”
The Episcopal Watchman, II, 351.
A North Carolina Editor Praises the School of John Chavis, Negro Teacher and Preacher, 1830
On Friday last, we attended an examination of the free children of colorattached to the School conducted by John Chavis, also colored, but a regularly educated Presbyterian minister, and we have seldom received more gratification from any exhibition of a similar character. To witness a well regulated school, composed of this class of personsto see them setting an example both in behavior and scholarship, which their white superiors might take pride in imitating, was a cheering spectacle to a philanthropist.
The exercises throughout, evinced a degree of attention and assiduous care on the part of the instructor, highly creditable, and of attainment on the part of his scholars almost incredible. We were also much pleased with the sensible address which closed the examination. The object of the respectable teacher, was to impress on the scholars, the fact, that they occupied an inferior and subordinate station in society, and were possessed but of limited privileges; but that even they might become useful in their peculiar sphere, by making a proper improvement of the advantages afforded them.
The Raleigh Register, April 22, 1830
Chapter VI. “The Instruction of Negroes.” In Edgar W. Knight.. A Documentary History of Education in the South before 1860. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1953
Chapter 10 “Up From Slavery: Educational and other Rights of Negroes.” In Edgar W. Knight and Clifton L. Hall. Readings in American Educational History. New York Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1951.
Many states had laws prohibiting the education of blacks; here black youngsters are turned away at the school door
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By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon’s violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King’s assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. Jamie Byng, Guardian
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 10 January 2012