(1884) William H. Crogman, “Negro Education: Its Helps and Hindrances”

William H. Crogman
Courtesy Digital Library of Georgia

William Henry Crogman, a native of the West Indian island of St. Martin, was educated at Pierce Academy in Massachusetts immediately after the Civil War. In 1868 he was named to the English faculty of newly organized Claflin College in South Carolina. By 1870 Crogman returned to college, entering Atlanta University. He graduated first in his class in 1876 and was appointed professor of classics at Clark College, another black institution in the city. Crogman was appointed president of Clark in 1903.

On July 16, 1884, Crogman was invited to address the predominantly white National Educational Association convention in Madison, Wisconsin. He used the opportunity to describe the remarkable post-Civil War educational progress of African Americans which he credited mainly to the faculty of the numerous black colleges which emerged throughout the South after 1865 and the dedication of the students and their parents to educational achievement despite their operating in a daunting environment of poverty and racial violence. Crogman’s speech appears below.

I appreciate most heartily the invitation extended to me to speak before you to night with regard to the educational interests of my people in the South. Nor can I well suppress within me the feeling that this act of courtesy on your part was prompted by a generous consideration for a race long obscured, but now hopefully struggling into light under the benign influences of Christian liberty. Surely, too, it will be a little encouraging to that race to think that, notwithstanding all the discouragements of the past, notwithstanding all the embarrassments, not withstanding all the misgivings and speculations with regard to its intellectual and moral capacity, it has, nevertheless, within twenty short years of freedom, been found worthy of recognition by you, and given to day several representatives among the educators of this great nation. Verily the world has been moving, and we have been moving in it.

But whatever may have been the advancement of the race within these years, whatever its progress, it would ill become me, I suppose, to speak of it at all in a boastful manner; for that advancement, that progress, is due as much, I suspect, to your generous assistance, as to our earnest endeavors. As a race, we have been greatly helped in our struggles up toward a higher and better life; helped from many and from various directions; helped by the Nation, the State, and the Church; helped by individuals, and helped by or organizations; helped in money and helped in prayers. In a word, the history of the nineteenth century does not present a page more luminous, a page more creditable to our civilization, than that on which are recorded the benevolences of the American people to their “brother in black.” As a representative of the race, I take very great pleasure in making before you to night this grateful acknowledgement.

Nor would we, on the other hand, have you ignore the fact that we have also helped ourselves. Freedom was a great educator to the Negro, as it usually has been to other people. Indeed, it must ever be the base of all true education, whether of a race or of an individual. To build upon anything narrower would be useless; for when you begin to educate a human being it is hard to tell to what altitude he may rise. Let him feel that the earth is beneath him, God above him, and nothing in the intermediate space to check his growth or chill his aspirations, and then you may begin to teach him the alphabet.

Many things, doubtless, have come to the Negro in this country in the inverted order, but his freedom and his education in the natural. Under the inspiration of the former, and the light reflected from the latter, he has been enabled, within the last two decades, to learn quite a number of things about himself and other people, and has been led to the discovery of this simple but solemn truth, namely, that whatever may be the number of his friends, and however unbounded their generosity, a true and manly independence can only be reached by self exertion.

How this discovery has affected his character and influenced his actions is apparent, I think, to any candid and observant mind. It may be seen in his desire to acquire landed property to own some spot of ground upon which he may stand up erect, and which, unencumbered, he may transmit to posterity; it may be seen in his efforts for more and better education. Never was there a time in the history of this country when there were so many colored children in school as there are to day. Never was there a time where the colored people, independent of State aid, supported so many private schools for the education of their children as they are supporting to day. Indeed, it is not uncommon now to find, even in the rural districts of the South, here and there, a settlement where the three months summer school provided by the State is supplemented by a three months winter school sustained by the parents. One of the very best graded schools in the city of Atlanta—a school that would reflect no discredit on the city of Madison—one of the very best graded schools, with kindergarten attached, taught by a proficient corps of white lady teachers from the North, enrolling nearly five hundred pupils annually, and annually sending away from its doors, because of lack of room, scores of applicants for admission, this school, I say, has for the last six years been supported by the colored people of Atlanta as a private school; partly because the educational facilities afforded by the city have not been quite adequate to the demand made upon it for instruction, and partly because of the excellence of the work ever done in that school. From one who has a right to know I learn that, within the last six years, the colored people have paid into that school, for the education of their children not less than $20,000. Certainly this looks a little like effort on the part of the Negro to help himself to an education. I am informed that similar schools exist in other large cities of the South. I know that such do exist in the cities of Charleston and Savannah.

Last year, in the four institutions of higher learning, established in Atlanta by Northern benevolence, there were, in round numbers, twelve hundred students. Of these, Atlanta University enrolled 310; Clark University, 222; the Baptist Seminary for males, about 140; and the Baptist Seminary for females, 500. But Atlanta is only one of the great centers of education in the South. There is Nashville, literally girdled by institutions; there is New Orleans. In fact, you will find to day in every Southern State, one or more institutions for the higher training of Negro youth, and the very fact that all these institutions are more or less crowded yearly, and the very fact that frequent appeal goes out from them to Christian philanthropy for more buildings, for increased accommodations, are proof conclusive, I think, that the Negro not only appreciates the advantages held out to him, but is also exerting himself to enjoy them.

Dr. Ruffner, for many years superintendent of public instruction for the State of Virginia, in one of his reports, a few years ago, bore this testimony to the credit of the Negro: “He wants to do right, and is the most amiable of races. The Negro craves education, and I believe his desire has increased; it certainly has not diminished. He makes fully as great sacrifices to send his children to school as the laboring classes of the whites. The civilization of the race is progressing and even faster than his thoughtful friends anticipated.”

I turn for a moment from the school to the Church, where evidences of self help are as striking, if not more so. To be brief, and to speak from accurate knowledge, I will confine myself to the work of the denomination with which I am connected. Immediately after the war, the Methodist Episcopal Church entered the South, and began its work among the colored people. Today it has among them a membership of 200,000 superintended by the same bishops who preside over the work here in the North. At the beginning, twenty years ago, and for some years after, all the Churches among the colored people were supported, either in whole or in part, by funds from the Missionary Society. To day, it is safe to say nearly one half of them are self-supporting. In the Savannah Conference, included within the State of Georgia, we have 15,000 members, and about a hundred churches. Of the latter, fifty six are entirely self supporting.

I have dwelt on these particulars because, unfortunately, there are still some persons who, reading Negro history with their prejudices rather than with their eyes, deny us even the credit for what little we have achieved for ourselves, and persist in holding us up to the public as that abnormal baby which never grows, which cannot grow, and which the American people must nurse for all time.

In the North American Review for this very month, Senator Morgan of Alabama, in a discussion of the “Future of the Negro,” has this remarkable passage: “For fifteen years, every means that Congress could devise has been supplied to the Negro race to enable them to attain a condition which will protect them in all their rights, liberties, and privileges that are enjoyed by the whites. To the personal and political power of the ballot have been added the guardianship of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Freedmen’s Bank and its branches, the civil rights statutes, and all the power of tyrannical courts to enforce their alleged civil rights; and still they are no stronger as a race, and probably no better as individuals than they were at the beginning of these efforts.” I say this is a remarkable passage; remarkable because coming from a United States Senator, who ought to be better informed with regard to a race in whose midst he lives. He cannot see that we are stronger as a race, or better as individuals, than we were fifteen years ago, and that, too, in the face of the following array of facts, which were collected, not by black, but by white, men, and widely circulated a short time ago through the medium of the press: “The colored people have already nearly 1,000,000 children in school; publish over 80 newspapers; furnish nearly 16,000 school teachers; about 15,000 students in the high schools and colleges; about 2,000,000 members in the Methodist and Baptist Churches; own 680,000 acres of land in Georgia alone, and over 5,000,000 in the whole South; the increase in the production of cotton since emancipation has been 1,000,000 bales per year, or one third more than that raised while working under the lash; and had deposited in the fraudulent Freedmen’s Bank $56,000,000; besides, colored men have engineered and nearly completed a railroad in North Carolina, and they are assessed $91,000,000 of taxable property.” The editor of the paper from which this bit of information was clipped, asks the question, “How do these facts impress you, when you consider that this race did not own itself twenty two years ago?” I repeat the question, “How do these facts impress you,” gentlemen? Have they at all any significance? Are they at all indicative of industry, of thrift, of economy, of growth, intellectual and moral? If they are, then verily the Negro, outside of the help he has received from friendly sources, has helped himself creditably in all those things which pertain to the building up of an intelligent and virtuous people. I am aware, of course, that all our achievements, taken in the aggregate, are but small, compared with the vast responsibilities which still lie before us; but they, nevertheless, constitute a beginning and that beginning is very auspicious.

The unfairness of our critics lies, usually, in the fact that they see but one side of the question; for, while they recognize very readily our weakness and our vices, and while, for the purpose of bringing out into bold relief those weaknesses, they invariably marshal to the front our helps; somehow, and in some way, the other fact seems to escape them, namely, that we have also had some hindrances. Let us consider some of these in a dispassionate way.

At the close of the war, the Negro found himself in the condition of a man who wakes up out of sleep in the midst of a dream in which all things seemed strange and confused. It took him some time to adjust himself to the new state of affairs. He was restless; he could hardly realize that he was free. As the impotent man, sitting at the gate of the temple, when healed by Peter, not only praised God, but walked and leaped to satisfy himself of the genuineness of his cure, so the Negro, to test his freedom, began to move about. His movements, at first, were individual, then general, as leaders sprang into existence; and it is really remarkable how many are the leaders when the members are ignorant. For the first ten or twelve years after the war nothing was more common in the South than leaders. Every little politician, every crank, constituted himself a Moses to lead the Negro somewhere; and various were their cries. One cried, “On to Arkansas!” and another “On to Texas!” and another “On to Africa!” and each one had a following more or less. One man told me that he had succeeded in leading away from South Carolina and Georgia to Arkansas and Texas 35,000 persons. That was in 1874. In December, 1879, the following appeared in the Southwestern Christian Advocate published at New Orleans:

“The departure of Negroes from Texas to Kansas and the North has assumed large proportions the past few weeks. On an average, from 1,000 to 1,200 have gone every week. As a rule, they are of the better class, and have money to pay their fares, or to go on teams, and have something left to buy homes with. While the larger numbers go by railroad, many are going with teams. In one camp, one of our ministers counted two hundred going thus, leisurely and comfortably. On the International Railroad over two hundred tickets were sold at a small station in one day. The company had been several days gathering at that point. We went into one car and counted ninety, men, women, and children. They all had first class tickets the railroad will sell no others to them and the fare of that company, in that one car, amounted to over $1,000. Just now the tide flows from Waller and Grimes counties. Private meetings are being held in many other counties, and every indication is that there will be a much greater movement in the spring than even the one going on now.”

Besides these spontaneous and voluntary movements there were also forced movements movements caused by tyrannical and unjust treatment such as the memorable exodus some few years ago, when thousands fled from the levees of Mississippi to perish in the snows of Kansas. Now, whatever good may have resulted from any of these movements, and I am not prepared to say that individuals were not benefited by some of them, it has ever been my opinion that, by keeping the people in an unsettled state; and by frequently disturbing the growth of the home, they hindered much the cause of popular education.

Again, no one, I suppose, will question the truth of the assertion that the South, at the close of the war, was not in a condition to undertake the education of the masses. Crippled in her resources, and without a common school system she was left to confront the most awful responsibilities ever thrust upon a people. That she succeeded as soon as she did in establishing a common school system is creditable to her common sense and good judgment.

But if the South was not in a condition at the close of the war to enter upon the education of the masses, neither was she in any mood to rush enthusiastically into the work of Negro education. To prove that she was would be to prove that human nature has undergone a radical change. But Mrs. Partington says that she finds that there is a good deal of the old “human natur” in folks to day. The South grew gradually up to the idea of Negro education, some States, to their credit, leading off in advance of others. I don’t know which was first. I do know that Georgia was not last; for, as late as July, 1879, Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, writing in one of the leading magazines of the country on the “Education of the Freedmen,” says: “With this enlightened policy of other States, it surprises us to find that in Kentucky the colored race have no share of the common school fund, and are opposed by peculiar laws. A colored school house is not allowed within a mile of a white school, nor in towns within six hundred feet.” It is easy to see, then, that the present state of affairs in the South, as they relate to education in general, and to Negro education in particular, did not fly into existence at the stroke of a magician’s wand, nor sprang they forth as the fabled goddess, full armed from the head of Jupiter. They are the result of gradual and steady growth. But, as the old adage has it, “While the grass is growing the horse is starving”; so, while things were taking years to settle down, while opinions were conflicting one with another, while Southern mind was seeking a stable equilibrium, while public sentiment was crystallizing around the idea of popular education, the black child, and the white child, too, had to wait impatiently for their intellectual pabulum; and, had it not been for the timely efforts of the Christian Church, during those years of uncertainty and delay; had it not been for the philanthropic heart of the North, that sent down to us, without stint, both money and men, it is hard to say what would have been the fate of the black child, at least, and of the country in which he lives. The South, then, to be judged fairly to day, must be judged not simply by what she has done, but also by what she has prepared to do; nor must the advancement of the Negro be judged merely by the length of time he has been free, as if that period had been one of uninterrupted progress, but also by the time it took to give him a start. I understand that in horse racing and boat racing a great deal of importance is attached to the start. Everything must be ready, the preparations complete, the oarsmen trained. To day the Negro has a better start than he had twenty years ago. For this reason I shall expect more from him in the next twenty than in the last. He has now, as you have seen, several thousand trained teachers of his own race. Besides the continued aid of the Church, he has the benefit, little or much, of the common school fund throughout the South, and, more than this, he is receiving gradually the recognition, sympathy, and influence of some of the best white men of the South. Prominent among these, and pre eminently worthy of recognition, is Dr. Atticus G. Haygood, of Georgia, the morning star of a better day, the Christian knight whose white plume, seen in the thickest of the fray, is rallying many stout hearts and strong hands to the cause of humanity. His church, or, rather, the branch of the Christian Church to which he belongs, has established a school for colored youth in the city of Augusta, GA Payne Institute at the head of which is Dr. Callaway, assisted by Prof. Walker, of South Carolina, and others, all Southern men. That school to day is the lone star of Southern Methodism; but it shines with an auspicious light. It will be the brightest star in a constellation of similar schools by and by. The world is moving, and its movements are ever in the direction of humanity. Gethsemane and Calvary shall yet conquer.

Some time ago I read an article written by an Ohio man who seemed to know all about us. He had spent a couple of years in the South teaching Negroes. From the tone of his article it was evident that he had been disappointed in more ways than one. At any rate, in that article, he poured out without stint his vials of wrath upon the Negroes’ heads. He told all about them, what they could do and what they couldn’t; and that article was made up of more couldn’ts than coulds. Among other defects of the race, he made the marvelous discovery that Negro children down South couldn’t learn as fast as white children up in Ohio. Well! When I read that I said to myself, If black children down on Southern plantations and white children up in Ohio are expected to day to move pari passu along the lines of education, it is high time for our Anglo Saxon friends to begin a thorough revision of their philosophy. To leave out of consideration an inheritance of two thousand years of trained intellect, the white child’s cradle was rocked by an intelligent hand; his early footsteps directed by an intelligent mind. It was his good fortune to be born in an intelligent home. From the time when his eyes and his ears opened, he has been receiving instruction. There are pictures on the wall for him to gaze upon; there are carpets on the floor for him to walk upon. There is neatness, there is comfort, there is order in that home that home more potent in its influence than school or college. The white child hears intelligent conversation daily; daily he imbibes new ideas. He is in a magnificent school. How many are his helps, how few his hindrances!

Come with me to the cabin of the South I will not call it a home. Look into it. Perhaps it is one room, in which live father, mother, and several children. In this they cook and eat and sleep. Father and mother are not models of intelligence; O, no! Poor creatures!

“Knowledge to their eyes her ample page, Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er unroll.

Here are no art decorations; here nothing to instruct the eye, to elevate the soul. Here the ear drinks in more often the “loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind.” Yet, here, too, is a school; and the black child is pupil here. Alas! how few are his helps; how many his hindrances!

Recognizing this fact, namely, that the education of the colored people must be greatly hindered so long as the home militates against the school, the various Christian denominations laboring in the South have begun, in connection with their institutions of learning, the establishment of “model homes,” or “school of domestic economy,” where our girls are taught to do all manner of housework, and are instructed in all the properties pertaining to a well regulated Christian home.

To meet the question now which might be rising in your minds, and which has been asked me at different times by white friends, “Why do not our people, as they are now accumulating means, move out of those cabins and build them good homes.” I reply, that many have done so, and are doing, all over the South. In the city of Atlanta, the colored people have secured many comfortable and some few elegant homes. I find, however, that the majority of those who have done so are the younger people and their parents who have been reached by the schools, the former directly, the latter indirectly. The large number of the older people are inclined to cling to their former mode of living. In this they are not peculiar. They only illustrate the lack of taste and the power of association. To have men surround themselves with beautiful things there must be first created within them a taste for the beautiful. In these cabins, too, the older people have experienced their joys and their sorrows. Their little ones were born here. Their aged ones died here. If, therefore, it be true that “home is where the heart is,” these cabins are their homes, notwithstanding they are a hindrance to the education of the people.

But I must hasten to a close, for I wish to tell you in a few brief sentences what I regard above all and above every other, the greatest and most aggravating hindrance to the education of the Negro in this country, and I shall speak very plain, for he who has convictions and not the courage to express them, is unworthy to stand where I am standing to night. I say that most aggravating hindrance to the education of the Negro to day, is the counter education which is continually going on in society.

In the school room the Negro is taught one thing; in society another. In the school room he is instructed in the same Bible which you study. He is taught that God made him, that Christ redeemed him, that the Holy Spirit sanctifies him. In society he is taught, that, although God made him and Christ died for him, yet there is a vast difference between a white man and a black, a wall of partition between a Jew and a Samaritan, between a Brahmin and a Pariah. In the school room he is taught the dignity of manhood after the American idea taught that

“The rank is but the guinea’s stamp The man’s the gowd for a’ that”

In society he is taught that rank or no rank, although a man, he is a black man; hence not a man “for a’ that.” In the school room he is taught that character is only shibboleth demanded in civilized society, that learning, that culture and refinement, are the only passports needed. In society he is taught that whatever may be his character, his culture, or his refinement, he must not attempt to enter any and every hotel in this country, and that he must sometimes, after paying first class fare, ride with his family in a second class smoking car among drunkards and blasphemers. It was only two weeks ago I read in the Christian Advocate, the leading paper of the Methodist Episcopal Church, published in New York City, the following:

“Prof. R. T. Greener has recently made an extended tour through the Southern States. His opinions of the progress of his race as reported by the daily press are worthy of great respect. Few men are better qualified to form a correct judgment. He finds more pride of race, more independence of character, greater neatness of dress, a stronger desire to enter business, and increasing thirst for education. He expresses high admiration for the work of the missionary teachers. He found the Negro not only in the cotton field and tobacco factory, but acting as carpenter, wheelwright, hack man (often owning the stable), blacksmith, brakeman, and in other avocations. He returns very greatly encouraged as to the future of his race. It is a burning disgrace that this cultured gentleman was four times ordered out of `first class’ cars, and it is to his credit that in each case he refused to go.”

Now, who is this Prof. Greener? He is nothing less than a graduate from old Harvard. I know him well, and knew his mother before him. But what does society care about a Harvard graduate, if his complexion is tinged with the hated color? Prof. Greener’s is very little tinged. He is nearer your color than mine. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I submit, here are two lines of education running counter to each other. Here are two forces acting upon the Negro, one in a straight line along the plane of manhood, the other urging him downward. Consequently, if you would find his true position in society, you must seek it along the resultant of these two forces, and whenever found it will be a position beneath the American idea of manhood beneath God’s. What is to be the outcome of this? It must certainly be clear to you that the more you educate a man, the more sensitive you make him to bad treatment. What is to be the outcome? There are men who are devising makeshifts, men who, in the language of Dr. Callaway, of Georgia, are inquiring, “What shall we do with the Negro?” instead of “What shall we do for him?” You can’t do anything with him. He is in God’s hands. You can do much for him. You can do simple justice to him. In the Popular Science Monthly for February, 1883, Prof. E. W Gilliam advises colonization as the only “remedy.” Colonize whom? Colonize men with the ballot in their hands, and with half the white people protesting against their departure? For Anglo Saxons will fight over ideas, and to many of them the Negro in this country represents an idea. Colonization will not solve the problem. The thousands that go will be as a “drop in the bucket” to the millions that remain.

Another author, in a pamphlet more remarkable for its bitterness than its logic, thinks we ought to be helped to go to the newly founded States of the Congo, where we may display our capacity for self government in the land of our fathers. Now, that is worth a good deal as rhetoric; but surely the author is un happy in his reference to the land of our “fathers,” for he has ignored the serious fact, that, of the six and a half million of us in this country, fully a million and a half would have considerable difficulty in finding the land of our “fathers.” Undoubtedly we should find in Africa the land of our mothers, but the land of our fathers we should certainly have to seek somewhere else. Perhaps along the shores of the North Sea and the borders of the Scandinavian peninsula.

The only remedy, then, for these social troubles, the only one which God can approve, is even handed justice meted out to every man. Why, when the Almighty sent Columbus to discover this country, he did so because he was tired looking down upon the tyranny of the old world and the oppression of his people, and desired to establish here a home for mankind. It is said that Columbus, on landing, took possession of the new world in the name of the Castilian sovereigns. If that intrepid mariner had had the light of the nineteenth century, he would have taken possession of it in the name of God and destiny. I repeat, the solution of this race problem, so called, must be simple. Justice meted out to your brother man. Go, preach this in your pulpits. Go, teach this in your school rooms. Go, educate the people up to where they stood in the days of George the Third, when they declared, and staked their lives and their fortunes on the declaration, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Go, teach this I say, in the spirit and in the letter, in the school room and by the fireside; and twenty years hence, when some Negro addresses the National Education Association of the United States, he will have the exquisite pleasure, denied me to night, of thanking you for the helps, without reminding you of the hindrances.