After Slavery: Educator Resources

Exhibit Splash Image

1. N.C. Planter Denying Schoolchildren Use of the Public Roads

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Six: Pursuing Citizenship: Justice & Equality in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

The freedpeople's conventions that took place across the former slave states between 1865 and 1867 asserted that the Republican government could not take root unless literacy and learning was "generally diffused among all classes." To that end they demanded that Reconstruction legislatures build a "uniform system of common schools." Having been denied access to formal education under slavery, freedpeople believed fervently in education, committing their meager resources to funding schools and teachers when the state was unable or unwilling to shoulder these costs.

Some whites were indifferent on the question of educating freedpeople, but from the evidence presented here, it would seem that a majority were hostile to the idea, fearing that "too much" learning would spoil a race destined for a life of labor in the fields or—even worse—foster ambitions that might lead freedpeople to challenge the status quo. By the late 1860s schoolhouses and the women and men who taught in them were prime targets of Klan and paramilitary violence. In the following document we see an early manifestation of white hostility to the education of black children.

North Carolina Planter Denying Schoolchildren Use of the Public Roads

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abd. Land
Supt. Affairs So. Dist. North Carolina
Wilmington July 12th 1866
Mr. Q. L. McMurray


Complaint is made to me that you forbid and refuse to allow a number of colored children to pass along a public road leading through your plantation in order to attend a school kept by a colored man under our jurisdiction.

I have to inform you that it is the right and duty of these children to pass and attend the school. You should consider it to the interest of yourself and others to have these freed people educated to some extent at least. Whether you do or not, we regard it as our duty to educate them and to protect them in receiving instruction.

If the children interrupt your property please report it to me. If they conduct themselves properly we must protect them and you cannot purposely forbid them passing. Yours &.

SourceBvt. Lieut. W. H. H. Beadle (Supt., Freedmen's Bureau, Wilmington) to Mr. Q. L. McMurray, Press Copies of Letter Sent, in M1909: Records of the Field Offices, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands.


Questions to Consider

  1. Why might whites in McMurray's position oppose education for black children? In what ways might it challenge their ideas about the organization of southern society?

  2. Beadle tries in his communication to convince McMurray that he should regard some education for freedpeople as in his own interests. What does he mean by this? Is McMurray likely to agree?

  3. There are obviously different approaches available to an agent like Beadle in trying to win the support of the planters for reform. How would you characterize his approach in this incident? Is he flexible or unyielding? Amiable or stern?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Six