Self-Taught African American Education in Slavery and Freedom (2009)





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Contributed date

February 4, 2023 - 12:12am

Critical Commentary

Histories of teaching and learning in the U.S. usually begin with civic-oriented white teachers travelling to the newly liberated South to educate a new generation of emancipated learners, ending with desegregation and school choice. Heather William's research demonstrates that this is an inaccurate narrative. Enslaved people in the Southern states taught themselves however they could and whenever they could. Those who acquired literacy, however elementary, tried their best to teach others. Enslaved and newly emancipated Black folks lobbied vigorously for funding to get the first public schools started. Williams' extensive and highly careful archival work demonstrates that public schooling in the U.S. was created by Black folks to advance sovereignty and self-determination. When the virtues of public schooling were clear to the Southern plantation class and Northern industrialists, with the fear of racial mixing prevalent amongs both white elite and working classes, school segregation was proposed as a solution. Williams notes:

"teaching, building schools, supporting teachers, resisting violence, and claiming education as a civil right, African Americans transformed the face of education in the South to the great benefit of both black and white southerners."

Cite as

Heather Andrea Williams, "Self-Taught African American Education in Slavery and Freedom (2009)", contributed by Prerna Srigyan, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 4 February 2023, accessed 8 December 2023.