The State of Education in South Carolina:
An Overview


"To educate a negro is to spoil a laborer and train up a candidate for the Penitentiary."

--Asbury Coward

In the late 19th century, the state of the education system of post-Reconstruction South Carolina proved to be somewhat ambiguous. White Liberals pushed for higher education standards -- as well as funds to provide this education -- while others fought staunchly for measures which would limit the amount or type of knowledge blacks could gain. Fear among whites grew with the thought of educated blacks, and while the state Constitution of 1868 called for the establishment and support of a public school system open to both races, the reality of this actually happening lessened as the closing of the century approached. In 1876, schools reported that 70,802 black students existed among a total of 123,085 students, with 1,931 white teachers and 1,087 black teachers. By the end of 1877, however, the schools only reported 949 black teachers, as opposed to 2,674 white teachers, with black student enrollment down by about 20,000 from the previous year. Thus the end of the Reconstruction years marked a significant shift in education for blacks not only in South Carolina, but in all of the South.

This shift took the form of the insistence upon "Industrial Education," an educational philosophy advocated in part by Booker T. Washington. Between the years of Reconstruction and the turn of the century, the establishment of such institutions thrived on the ideology that the newly-freed slaves existed as a childlike people, with limited knowledge and a degree of inferiority to whites, thus supposedly making it difficult for them to fend for themselves; they needed proper guidance. The initiation and growth of industrial education in the South between the Reconstruction years and the turn of the century rooted itself in the notion that through training of black teachers, the race problem could be conquered. The type of training received, however, took the form of manual labor, which "provided the highest likelihood of 'civilizing' the black."

Black Teachers

Penn Normal, Industrial, and Agricultural SchoolIn the South, where the economy's success depended upon agricultural labor, individual success for blacks depended upon skills suited for such labor. Thus the philosophy behind the training of blacks during the latter portion of the nineteenth century found its roots in agriculturally based education, and many institutions providing such an education evolved. One such institution, Penn Normal, Industrial, and Agricultural School, took on just such a philosophy, training its students in the basics of agricultural work, as well as training teachers who would eventually lead in the education of black students in other areas in the South.


Avery Normal InstituteYet another educational institution, the Avery Normal Institute, prescribed to an educational philosophy based on raising up, in a sense, the black race in America. Started by the American Missionary Association, or A.M.A., Avery's philosophy highly valued education, including the classical. Missionaries attempted to set up a system whereby Southern blacks could, in a sense, be refashioned into the image of the New England missionaries, stressing the importance of classical literary and philosophical trends. It has been argued that students at Avery comprised a black elite, a segment of W.E.B. DuBois' notion of the "Talented Tenth." Students at Avery, however, were not only classically educated. Avery synthesized both the classical and progressive educational philosophies of the day.



The Rural South


Their weak wings beat against their barriers -- barriers of caste, of youth, of life.

-- W.E.B. DuBois

While Penn School trained its students for rural life in the South, Avery adhered to a doctrine of training the mind and producing teachers who could do the same. However, educated black teachers usually left the rural areas where they taught in order to find better opportunities in the North. Schools like Avery and Penn proved to be a God-send for only a small portion of the black population. Everyone desired an education, yet an adequate teaching staff proved to be scarce, particularly in the rural South. Even more scarce was adequate funding, for -- especially in rural areas -- money allocated for educational purposes helped only the whites, while blacks had to fund their own education. In 1930, the average expenditure of money per student in rural areas equaled $99, while for black students, it equaled about $12. Furthermore, class terms in the South proved to be drastically shorter for blacks than whites, partly because of inadequate teaching staff, and the need for children's labor at home.

Despite such hardships, blacks in rural areas remained dedicated to learning. They viewed education as their only weapon against ignorance and a requisite stop toward greater freedom and opportunity. Illiterate blacks residing in the rural areas of the South persevered and gained their education because they possessed the will and drive to do so; they wanted it. The deplorable state of schools and limited availability could not hinder their commitment to learning.

While commitment to learning may have been high, numerous forces worked against blacks who desired education, namely the institution of Jim Crow laws rampant in the South. The idea purported to bring "separate but equal" facilities to blacks, but it became evident that this was not a reality. Especially rampant in schooling, blacks suffered through separate and drastically inadequate facilities, teachers, and funds.


Migrating North

The inadequacies of education for the majority of blacks in the South drove them to search for better opportunities in the North. Moreover, many teachers trained at institutions such as Avery did not wish to teach in the underprivileged, poor-paying southern schools. Hearing of opportunities to use their training in places such as New York City, along with the change in educational philosophy from agricultural to industrial training, many teachers desired the chance to use their knowledge in the northern cities, where industry and opportunity appeared rampant.

Furthermore, the younger generation, frustrated at the lack of opportunity, became enamored with the promise of a new life in the North. They could see no future in living their lives on the land as their ascestors had done, for their future lied in the industrial opportunities and the excitement of the social scene in these northern urban centers. Just as educational philosophies changed from Booker T. Washington's notion of job training to W.E.B DuBois' notion of the training of the mind, the young generation of southern blacks altered their views on their potential opportunities. They no longer had to work the land; they could "better themselves" up North.



Image Gallery:
Visions of Education in South Carolina


Let's visit Penn Normal, Industrial, and Agricultural School

Let's visit Avery Normal Institute

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Let's explore Booker T Washington's Educational Philosophy

Let's explore W.E.B. DuBois' Educational Philosophy

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