The American Missionary Association

"Tell them we are rising, Sir."

The American Missionary Association formed as an institution dedicated to "the Negro Problem," aiming to bring about full and equal privileges of citizenship to the black population of the United States during the latter half of the 19th century, leading into the 20th century. The Association did so under the doctrine that to deny these rights would serve to subvert the teachings of Jesus, thus those who attempted to deny these rights performed sins against God and man. Formed as a means of protest against other missionaries during the mid-19th century, the AMA promoted political activity and encouraged a strong anti-slavery sentiment among its missions.

This anti-slavery sentiment extended into the theories of education in the South,where the AMA established a number of elementary schools, and eventually normal schools and colleges. The normal schools served to educate and train blacks in order to eventually incorporate a teaching staff composed of blacks, for the Association "decided that blacks should eventually furnish their own teachers." The belief held that the role of whites served to initially educate and train blacks, but that blacks would, in time, establish and develop their own leaders in an effort to "control" their own futures. The AMA staunchly advocated that "no race should be permanently dependent upon another for their own development."

Questions may arise as to whether the philosophy behind the AMA truly worked for the good of African Americans due to its heavy Christian influences and its paternalistic nature. It has been argued that the missionaries' ultimate goal did not promote black culture, but rather, it hindered it in an attempt to acculturate blacks into a white America.

The work of the AMA served to "fix" the "Negro problem" by initiating education providing the initial funds, teaching what missionaries deemed important, and then leaving blacks to fend for themselves, essentially -- seemingly inadmirable. However, the educational efforts of the American Missionary Association met with a good deal of success, maintaining schools in the South successfully until the mid-twentieth century. When Charleston's Avery Normal Institute became a public school in 1947, eliminating the funds of the AMA, it survived only a few more years. The AMA served as the most significant of missionary societies dedicated to training blacks, assisting in their transition to post-slavery life. Through the training received in many of the schools, the missionary schools set up developed black teachers, ministers, physicians, attorneys, businessmen and women, and community leaders. And while initial intentions tended to be paternalistic and focused on Northern white values, the AMA did work toward an ultimate goal of promoting equality among the races.

The children hurry to school as soon as their work is over. The plowmen hurry from the field at night to get their hour of study. Old men and women strain their dim sight with the book two and a half feet distant from the eye, to catch the shape of the letter. I call this heaven-inspired interest.
-- H.S. Beals, Christian Reconstruction

Whatever the curriculum proposed by the AMA, it provided blacks with opportunities they had never experienced before, and granted them the tools necessary to become leaders in the social and political realms of society.


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