The persistent struggle of the colored people to have their children educated at public expense shows how resolved they were to be enlightened. In the beginning Negroes had no aspiration to secure such assistance. Because the free public schools were first regarded as a system to educate the poor, the friends of the free blacks turned them away from these institutions lest men might reproach them with becoming a public charge. Moreover, philanthropists deemed it wise to provide separate schools for Negroes to bring them into contact with sympathetic persons, who knew their peculiar needs. In the course of time, however, when the stigma of charity was removed as a result of the development of the free schools at public expense, Negroes concluded that it was not dishonorable to share the benefits of institutions which they were taxed to support. Unable then to cope with systems thus maintained for the education of the white youth, the directors of colored schools requested that something be appropriated for the education of Negroes. Complying with these petitions boards of education provided for colored schools which were to be partly or wholly supported at public expense. But it was not long before the abolitionists saw that they had made a mistake in carrying out this policy. The amount appropriated to the support of the special schools was generally inadequate to supply them with the necessary equipment and competent teachers, and in most communities the white people had begun to regard the co-education of the races as undesirable. Confronted then with this caste prejudice, one of the hardest struggles of the Negroes and their sympathizers was that for democratic education.
[Footnote 1: The Negroes of Baltimore were just prior to the Civil War paying $500 in taxes annually to support public schools which their children could not attend.]
The friends of the colored people in Pennsylvania were among the first to direct the attention of the State to the duty of enlightening the blacks as well as the whites. In 1802, 1804, and 1809, respectively, the State passed, in the interest of the poor, acts which although interpreted to exclude Negroes from the benefits therein provided, were construed, nevertheless, by friends of the race as authorizing their education at public expense. Convinced of the truth of this contention, officials in different parts of the State began to yield in the next decade. At Columbia, Pennsylvania, the names of such colored children as were entitled to the benefits of the law for the education of the poor were taken in 1818 to enable them to attend the free public schools. Following the same policy, the Abolition Society of Philadelphia, seeing that the city had established public schools for white children in 1818, applied two years later for the share of the fund to which the children of African descent were entitled by law. The request was granted. The Comptroller opened in Lombard Street in 1822 a school for children of color, maintained at the expense of the State. This furnished a precedent for other such schools which were established in 1833, and 1841. Harrisburg had a colored school early in the century, but upon the establishment of the Lancastrian school in that city in the thirties, the colored as well as the white children were required to attend it or pay for their education themselves.