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Missouri Schools for Black Children After the Civil War

Directly Following the Civil War in 1865, the Missouri constitution was amended to require public schools for *all children, ages 5-21 yrs. of age, and to direct funds to be distributed without regard to color. 

But townspeople objected to Black education for reasons we still hear today. Some did not approve of taxation and felt it was each family’s responsibility to educate their own children. Some complained that it was a waste of resources for students to learn anything more than basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. Others expressed concerns that education might cause people to become immoral. (It was a common concern in America that too much education would cause a person to be unfaithful to their spouse or to abandon their faith.) While public education gained popularity in the following decades, schools for Black children remained elusive or poorly staffed/resourced. Many Black parents educated their children at home, as an increasing number are choosing to do today. 

Offering Black students an honest and uplifting view of their past has always been taboo, but educators in America’s Black schools were creative, industrious, and intentional about instilling pride and self-confidence in their students. In lieu of the National Anthem, many sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the start of their day and taught Black history from the Negro History Bulletin by Carter G. Woodson*, careful to pivot to the National Anthem or approved curriculum when city leaders arrived unannounced, searching for any reason to close the school doors. Students of teachers like Mary McLeod Bethune or Tessie McGhee knew how to follow their teacher’s lead and later recalled the valuable lessons and fulfilling instruction they received because of a determined and skilled network of Black educators.

*Carter G. Woodson originally implemented Negro History Week, a popular celebration in segregated, Black schools. The week later became what we today celebrate as Black History


“The Development of the Negro Public School System in Missouri” (Dissertation from University of Chicago by Henry S. Williams in 1917)

Fugitive Pedagogy, Givens



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