Contested goals and competing interests: freedpeople's education in North Carolina during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1861-1875
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This dissertation examines the growth and development of North Carolina’s schools for the freedpeople during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, 1861-1875. In particular, it investigates who taught the freedpeople in North Carolina, why they elected to teach the former slaves, and the curriculum that was used in the state’s black schools. Recognising that the teachers of the freedpeople have been consistently portrayed as ‘Yankee schoolmarms’ in the historical literature, this dissertation begins by interrogating the life and work of northern white, southern white, and black teachers as three distinct yet interrelated teaching groups. To do this, this dissertation analysed a biographical database of over 1,400 teachers, known as the Freedmen’s Teacher Project, as well as a wide range of traditional archival sources, such as the teachers’ letters, memoirs, and diaries. Secondly, by conducting a textual analysis of nineteenth-century textbooks, including those that were created for the freedpeople in the aftermath of the Civil War as well as those that were used in antebellum northern common schools and subsequently donated to the freedpeople, this dissertation examines the curriculum that was used in North Carolina’s schools for the freedpeople. Ultimately, this dissertation finds that northern white, southern white, and black teachers perceived black freedom and the role of education in very different ways. While northern white teachers saw education as a means of reforming the former slaves, southern white teachers viewed black schools as instruments of social control. Black teachers, on the other hand, saw education as a vehicle for securing civil and political equality, as well as economic mobility. Given that most of the textbooks used in North Carolina’s post-Civil War black schools were written and produced by northern white men and women, they served to reinforce the northern white teachers’ reforming agenda and by portraying black people as inherently inferior, the textbooks’ primary function was to perpetuate the antebellum racial hierarchy. Ultimately, the contested goals and competing interests of teachers, institutions, and learners shaped the contours of black freedom in profound and lasting ways.