W. E. B. Du Bois argued that the freedmen had a deep commitment to education and that African Americans in the Republican coalition played a critical role in establishing the principal of universal public education in state constitutions during congressional Reconstruction. Some slaves learned to read from white playmates although formal education was not allowed by law; African Americans started "native schools" before the end of the war; Sabbath schools were another widespread means freedmen created for teaching literacy. When they gained suffrage, black politicians took this commitment to public education to state constitutional conventions.
African Americans and white Republicans joined to build education at the state level. They created a system of public schools, which were segregated by race everywhere except New Orleans. Generally, elementary and a few secondary schools were built in most cities, and occasionally in the countryside, but the South had few cities.
The rural areas faced many difficulties opening and maintaining public schools. In the country, the public school was often a one-room affair that attracted about half the younger children. The teachers were poorly paid, and their pay was often in arrears. Conservatives contended the rural schools were too expensive and unnecessary for a region where the vast majority of people were cotton or tobacco farmers. They had no vision of a better future for their residents. One historian found that the schools were less effective than they might have been because "poverty, the inability of the states to collect taxes, and inefficiency and corruption in many places prevented successful operation of the schools."
Numerous private academies and colleges for freedmen were established by northern missionaries. Every state created state colleges for freedmen, such as Alcorn State University in Mississippi. The state colleges created generations of teachers who were critical in the education of African American children.
In 1890, the black state colleges started receiving federal funds as land grant schools. They received state funds after Reconstruction ended because, as Lynch explains, "there are very many liberal, fair-minded and influential Democrats in the State who are strongly in favor of having the State provide for the liberal education of both races."
Read more about this topic: Reconstruction Era
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