Education for Manhood : the Education of Blacks in Virginia During the Civil War

Horst, Samuel Levi, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Rose, Willie Lee, Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia

During the Civil War black fugitives from slavery came into the Union held area of Virginia and into Washington, D. C. in growing numbers. Northern abolitionist societies brought relief and education. This program grew as the Union expanded its control of the Eastern Virginia region.

Education became the predominant aspect of these efforts and the consistently eager response from the blacks appeared to vindicate their efforts. Legal emancipation merely emphasized the need for social emancipation and education was viewed as the gateway through which the illiterate black could achieve responsible citizenship. The government appointed Superintendents of Negro Affairs usually agreed and cooperated with the societies. As farms and plantations of rebels were confiscated these Superintendents settled many of the fugitives on them and the societies sent teachers, ministers and farm managers to help bring about the social emancipation of the fugitive blacks.

During the war to save the Union an inevitable clash of objectives occurred. However, leading officials in the abolitionist societies brought their influence to bear on public policy, by emphasizing the need for a government bureau of freedmen's affairs. They persistently pressed national political and military officials until the Freedmen's Bureau was formed in March, 1865.

The view that the emerging freedman was degraded by slavery in the sense that he was deprived of his manhood was one which abolitionists shared with the antislavery sentiment, generally. It was natural that they conceived of education as the means to restore this lost manhood. This emphasis enhanced efforts to enlist blacks into the Union army where black education was also carried on in spite of the constant interruptions of military movement. Viewing the blacks as degraded, however, blinded the whites working with them to some of the realities of antebellum slavery and to black social and cultural life and the loss of manhood theme was hardly a reassuring one to a nation eager to bind the wounds of war and restore peace.

The program of fugitive black education in Virginia begun during the war and expanded in the immediate post-war years was an important influence on public education of blacks and became part and parcel of the social goals which abolitionists hoped to realize in the Reconstruction years in the South at large.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
African Americans -- Education -- Virginia, United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- African Americans -- Education

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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