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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 341 pages of information about The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861.

[Footnote 1:  Fee, Antislavery Manual, p. 147.]

[Footnote 2:  Ibid., p. 148.]

[Footnote 3:  Fee, Antislavery Manual, p. 149.]

CHAPTER IX

LEARNING IN SPITE OF OPPOSITION

Discouraging as these conditions seemed, the situation was not entirely hopeless.  The education of the colored people as a public effort had been prohibited south of the border States, but there was still some chance for Negroes of that section to acquire knowledge.  Furthermore, the liberal white people of that section considered these enactments, as we have stated above, not applicable to southerners interested in the improvement of their slaves but to mischievous abolitionists.  The truth is that thereafter some citizens disregarded the laws of their States and taught worthy slaves whom they desired to reward or use in business requiring an elementary education.  As these prohibitions in slave States were not equally stringent, white and colored teachers of free blacks were not always disturbed.  In fact, just before the middle of the nineteenth century there was so much winking at the violation of the reactionary laws that it looked as if some Southern States might recede from their radical position and let Negroes be educated as they had been in the eighteenth century.

The ways in which slaves thereafter acquired knowledge are significant.  Many picked it up here and there, some followed occupations which were in themselves enlightening, and others learned from slaves whose attainments were unknown to their masters.  Often influential white men taught Negroes not only the rudiments of education but almost anything they wanted to learn.  Not a few slaves were instructed by the white children whom they accompanied to school.  While attending ministers and officials whose work often lay open to their servants, many of the race learned by contact and observation.  Shrewd Negroes sometimes slipped stealthily into back streets, where they studied under a private teacher, or attended a school hidden from the zealous execution of the law.

The instances of Negroes struggling to obtain an education read like the beautiful romances of a people in an heroic age.  Sometimes Negroes of the type of Lott Carey[1] educated themselves.  James Redpath discovered in Savannah that in spite of the law great numbers of slaves had learned to read well.  Many of them had acquired a rudimentary knowledge of arithmetic.  “But,” said he, “blazon it to the shame of the South, the knowledge thus acquired has been snatched from the spare records of leisure in spite of their owners’ wishes and watchfulness."[2] C.G.  Parsons was informed that although poor masters did not venture to teach their slaves, occasionally one with a thirst for knowledge secretly learned the rudiments of education without any instruction.[3] While on a tour through parts of Georgia, E.P.  Burke observed that, notwithstanding the great precaution which was taken to prevent the mental improvement of the slaves, many of them “stole knowledge enough to enable them to read and write with ease."[4] Robert Smalls[5] of South Carolina and Alfred T. Jones[6] of Kentucky began their education in this manner.

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