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But I cannot forget that this can hardly be expected, on its present extended scale, to remain permanently. Nor can it be expected, that if the work is carried on exclusively by the whites, with many of whom, in course of time, pecuniary compensation and other unsound motives may be the inducement, properly interested persons will always be employed. But in colored teachers and missionaries you will be sure to find laborers duly interested, not indeed because the colored teacher or missionary is better than the white, but because in this particular case his very selfishness will be a guaranty of faithfulness and earnestness.
If I were to recommend any expression of opinion to this inflential body of American educators on this subject, it would be that we recognize the duty and the expediency of encouraging the employment of educated colored teachers and missionaries in the work of elevating the freedmen, and that the establishment of normal schools in which the freedmen may have the opportunity to fit themselves to act as teachers be also recommended.
In view of the fact that the freedman, who has toiled and suffered for the country, accepts the genius of American principles, accepts the simple truths of religion, of the Protestant faith, — that he is no royalist, no atheist, no infidel, no heathen, no papist, -- that he is born on the soil, and is determined to remain in your midst, and form part of a republican government in which every man must be free, and every freeman a voter, that he never has deserted, and never will desert, the flag of his country, but will defend it in the future, as he has defended it in the past, even when victory bore him no glory, capture lent him no protection, and death gave him no grave, -- I would ask that this influential body of American educators unite with me in indorsing the view I have endeavored to set forth.
Bishop Smith, of Kentucky, said that, up to 1839 and 1840, no considerable movement had been made in the direction of public schools, but only in the direction of charity schools for the poor. The sparseness of the population in the mountain region of Kentucky renders it very difficult to have public schools there. But in consequence of the wonderful efforts of Rev. Dr. Breckinridge, the system is now well grounded in Kentucky; and you may rest satisfied, said the speaker, that, by the ordinary blessing of Almighty God, Kentucky will hereafter stand fairly on a level with the border free States.
More than thirty years ago he opened a school in Lexington for colored, mostly slave children, and had one school of fifty, and another of seventy, for many years. He referred to the result in his own experience to confirm the statement of the previous speaker, that it is important and practicable to raise up competent teachers among the colored people themselves. The bishop spoke of the success of a teacher in Louisville, who, by the aid of General Palmer and the speaker, had been the means of increasing the schools in Louisville from one to five, and the scholars from seventy to five hundred, with the plan of building two school-houses for free instruction, so that by Christmas they hope to have a thousand pupils from the colored population in Louisville. The thirst for knowledge of the colored people was deemed wonderful. In the night school there was one man fifty-seven years of age. The school consisted of seventy or eighty, and they all gave a quarter of a dollar a week for instruction. This old man was so eager for instruction that he gave up an employment which afforded him fifteen dollars a week, so that he might come to the school; and he was there from eight o'clock in the morning till eight o'clock at night. His progress in reading, spelling, and writing, were remarkable. Other instances were mentioned by the speaker, confirming the general testimony that the colored people are anxious to
acquire knowledge. Many slaves in Kentucky could read, as the laws have never forbidden the teaching of slaves to read in that State. Public sentiment is changing rapidly there now, and it is probable that schools for both races together will before long be established. Within two years the schools for colored people, in Louisville, will be as good as they are now anywhere in Kentucky, out of Louisville, for white people.
Mr. Boltwood, of Illinois, related some of the results of his experience and observation among the poor whites and the freedmen of the South, during a service for the Sanitary Commission of about fourteen months. The general duty contemplated by the question under consideration, he thought, is to enforce the obligation of loyalty to our country. The poor whites are more needy than the blacks, in many cases, and more need instruction. The blacks are docile, and willing to learn; the whites are not. Open a school, and announce that the whites can be taught, and you will find but few who will coine. He had seen seventeen hundred of them in Mobile, so lazy, that, though supported by government, nothing but whiskey or tobacco would hire them to work. At Montgomery, Alabama, there were six thousand whites supported by government rations, and only seven hundred negroes.
The blacks are more industrious and more moral than the whites. They will learn to read first, and will support their own schools at least as soon as the whites. He had seen the black soldiers lying in the trenches at Port Hudson, putting words to each other to spell, while shot and shell were rending the air and bursting over their heads. (Applause.) He had seen them on picket, with spelling-books on their bayonets, and would never forget the sensation experienced when late at night he listened to an old negro spelling out laboriously the words," I am the resurrection and the life.” If the test qualification for the right of suffrage were the ability to read and write, there would be more blacks than whites who would acquire it. If a property qualification were required, the resuit would be the same.
Professor Thatcher, of Yale College, thought this the grandest opportunity ever offered us, in the providence of God, to advance this whole nation. Whatever may be the feeling of bitterness at the South, as the result of defeat, there can but come in gradually a desire to have their children educated. Their schools are destroyed, their institutions are impoverished, having been prevailed upon to give up their bonds and property, and accept Confederate bonds in their place. There will, therefore, be a demand for Northern teachers; and there should be a readiness to respond to the demand, and to go to any place that is open to receive instruction. They have already sent from Nashville for from forty to sixty teachers, and the call has been laid before the students of Yale College. Was there ever a grander opportunity than is now offered of teaching these people to read, and then of putting the things that they should read into their hands? We shall be met with scorn if we attempt to push our services upon them; but if we are looking for openings, and are ready to occupy the positions that are open, we shall be doing the best thing. Whoever goes should be impressed with the importance of the work of being in all respects missionaries of education; primarily, to make their school a good one; and secondly, to be friends of every educational movement.
J. C. Zachos, of Massachusetts, said he had spent sixteen months as a missionary among the colored people, on one of the islands at Port Royal, among a class of negroes who had the reputation of being the lowest of their class. He con
sidered the condition of the negroes throughout the South one of the most remarkable phenomena as respects their readiness to receive instruction, only paralleled by some vegetable growths, for instance the night-blooming cereus, which after a hundred years of preparation bursts into flower. While these people have been outraged in their intellectual and moral capacities for improvement, they have had, by their very condition of slavery, nurtured within their secret hearts all the desires, all the appetites, all the ambitions, that are the motive powers in civilization. With a gulf impassable between them and all the advantages of civilization, they were yet in full sight of everything that can dignify and exalt humanity. Let us be true to this black population, and they will be true to us; let us learn once and for all, that we cannot expect the blessing of God, that we can never expect to rise and stand as a nation of freedmen, unless we do the utmost justice to this people.
T. D. Adams, Esq., of Newton, Mass., said, Some of us cannot speak from facts which have come under our own observations, and perhaps we are a little out of place in attempting to speak at all. But we all feel an interest in this discussion. And for myself, sir, having introduced this subject a few months ago, before a convention of teachers in Cambridge, Mass., and having felt considerable interest in it then, I think I may be pardoned for feeling the same interest now. I think, sir, that we may draw a few inferences from the great array of facts which have been related to us. It appears to nie that this is the greatest question of the age in our country. And indeed, as I look across the world, I see no other nation which has at present a question in hand at all comparable in magnitude and interest with this.
The freedmen are legion in number, and must become a great help or an immense burden to our government.