Each One Teach One: The Education of The Texas Freedmen 

Freedmen's Bureau - Third Semi-annual report on schools for freedmen, January 1, 1867

 

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NORTHWESTERN LOUISIANA AND NORTHERN TEXAS.

On account of the change in January last, whereby officers and agents in large numbers were discharged from Bureau service, the superintendents in the large States of Louisiana and Texas found it impossible to give suitable attention to the school work in the remoter parts of that widely extended country. They could not even inform themselves properly as to the true condition and wants of the distant counties. Facilities for traveling there are very few, many weeks sometimes being occupied in visiting a single point. It became necessary, therefore, either to place a superintendent in the locality above named, or neglect it almost entirely.

On the 7th of June last, by order of the Commissioner, Captain James McClcery, United States Army, was assigned to duty as superintendent of education for the district of Northwestern Louisiana and Northern Texas. He was soon on the ground, and has exhibited a lively interest in the work, with energy in gathering facts and planning for the coming year. The people are found anxious for schools, and we anticipate, after due time, large results in this newly-formed district.

 

 

TEXAS.
Rev. Joseph Welch, Superintendent of Education.

The year in Texas closed with a marked improvement in educational interests. The people generally are gradually realizing their necessities, and the inevitable march of progressive ideas. The peculiarities of border life, it is true, have taken deep root among them, and rough habits of thought and conduct in many parts are the general rule. All educational labor is known to have been attended with hardship and sacrifice, even personal peril; but with the advent of needed officers and the settlement of disturbing political questions, our work has taken new life and gone steadily on.

The public press now utters partial commendation where once it was characterized by vilest epithets, and the native whites appear to favor what hitherto they have violently opposed. But two instances of outrage (and these exceptional in their character) have been reported during the year, which, compared with the organized terrorism of the past, are proof of the gradual return to civil order and the coming sway of refined society. On account of unusual excitement attendant upon the late presidential canvass, it was deemed prudent by the officer in command, Major General J. J. Reynolds, to suspend for the time being the .educational work; but, even under these circumstances, no very material loss either of interest or results has appeared.

The social ostracism, however, as reported heretofore, continues to some extent, showing that public sentiment in special cases and in its lower depths' is still impure. But, notwithstanding all this, our teachers labor on in this noble work, simply content with the blessed results, and the reward of a good conscience.

Large expectations were built upon the temporal prosperity of the freedmen during the passing year, as thereby they would be able to contribute largely to the support of schools without embarrassment to their planting operations; but the recent disastrous floods in the valley of the Colorado, making thousands homeless, very sensibly affect at the present time the development of our educational plans. Statements in detail of this disaster will be found in the superintendent's report.

The extensive arrangements lately made by the American Missionary Association to occupy this field and stem the adverse tide are lull of promise. Greater unity of effort, in the close connection of that society with this Bureau, will be the result, and already our superintendent is full of heart and hope in his contemplated effort as co-operative with the above association.

Much difficulty has attended the employment of that class of teachers who were natives of the State. Many of them have been found incompetent in point of attainment, and sometimes morally incapacitated. A good normal and training school is needed in Texas; only a class or

two in one of the better schools paying any attention to the subject of teaching. Until such are thoroughly prepared, the schools will have to depend mainly upon northern instructors. A number of school-houses are being built in new neighborhoods.

The school at San Antonio is now reported as a part of the free-school system of that city, which pays the salary of teachers. We look to the future of this widely extended though youthful State with the deepest interest.

The statistical summary of Texas shows a much larger number of schools, teachers, and pupils than last year.

     
  Schools. Teachers. Pupils.
REGULARLY REPORTED.      
Day and night 70 65 2 988
Sabbath 49 136 3 128
Total 119 201 6,116
IRREGULARLY REPORTED.      
Day and night . 25 25 1 200
Sabbath 25 25 1 200
Total .f 50 50 2 400
Grand total .. 169 251 8 516

Three of the regularly reported day and night schools are graded.

The freedmen have paid for tuition $2,739 55; number of paying pupils, 1,232—an average of $2 22 per pupil. A large sum has also been expended in establishing new schools and providing for the support of- teachers, of which we have no report.

In the alphabet there are 362 pupils; 1,050 spell and read easy lessons; 1,067 are advanced readers. There are 056 studying geography, 1,125 arithmetic, 1,441 writing, and 247 higher branches. The average attendance of the regularly reported day and night schools is 2,394—80 per cent, of the whole number enrolled.

The freedmen sustained wholly or in part sixty-nine of these schools, and own forty-seven of the buildings in which they are conducted. The Bureau furnishes fifteen buildings for educational purposes, and expended during the six mouths $3,718 62. The total expenditure by all parties has been $6,458 17.

Mr. Welch, the superintendent, gives a clear and satisfactory account of schools in Texas, as follows:

In presenting this semi-annual report, it affords me great pleasure to say it is drawn from a careful survey of the entire work, which is in a more promising and stable condition than has hitherto been attained in this State.

While we have suffered some inconvenience by the withdrawal of the general operations of the Bureau, through the agency of the sub-assistant commissioners, yet there has not been the embarrassment nor loss in the schools which was anticipated.

Public imitimrnt.—There is a gratifying improvement in the conduct of the various communities toward the schools, though I can discern but little change in reference to those engaged in teaching the freedmen. They appear to be as far as ever from being recognized in general society; and yet, much to their credit, these teachers are content if allowed to pursue their work in peace and safety.

There has been but one instance in which our schools have been disturbed during the past term, and only once in which a teacher has been insulted. Although these cases were sufficiently aggravating in their nature, yet I do not deem it necessary to report them in detail.

The press.—It may be considered a matter of important gain that the press has of late changed its tone on this subject, so that instead of reviling and slandering the teachers engaged in the work, the public journals generally notice the examinations and celebrations of the schools with a qualified candor and commendation. I give an extract from a paper published at Waco on the occasion of a May celebration by the school taught by the Misses Julia and Mary O'Connor:

"We are not only willing, but anxious, to give our sanction and assistance to every effort properly made for the improvement of the colored people, and we love to see them enjoying themselves, if without injury and reproach to themselves or annoyance to the white citizens. We are decidedly in favor of the black people educating their children when able to do so and not neglect their duties. But we do not approve their sending their children to school from a mere hifalntin idea of making them smart and like white folks, while the parents are living in squalor and filth, and too frequently resorting to dishonesty to alleviate the pressure of their poverty. Everything in order and each in its place—first the ability to procure healthful, however plain and humble, food, clothing, and shelter, then the education to embellish the mind.''

The above is a fair sample of the usual expressions of late in reference to our schools; and while there is no practical evidence of a willingness to recognize even the respectability of the teachers by receiving them into society, yet the growth of public sentiment is tending in the right direction.

Acting on principle.—The enthusiasm that took possession of the freedmen upon the first establishment of the schools and produced such marvelous-results in the beginning of the educational system, has become a cooler but more reliable principle. There is now a regular and systematic effort made by them to secure the permanent establishment of school facilities, giving promise in the highest degree of future good.

The freedmen are realizing the hard but sure teaching of experience, that the best

Protection against the imposition practiced upon them heretofore is the ability to understand the laws and usages of business, and to demand and enforce the administration of justice. They are learning that " knowledge is power~ in its truest sense.

Prospects for harvest.—So far as can be ascertained, the general prospects are good for a bountiful harvest. Advices from all parts of the State indicate an unusual yield of all the staple products of this section. This will enable the freedmen to furnish the necessary support to the schools, without in any manner embarrassing themselves in making the usual provision for planting engagements the coming season. This is especially gratifying in view of the partial failure of the crops of the past two or three years on the Lower Brazos, which is one of the heaviest planting regions, and where the freedmen have heretofore been reduced to actual destitution.

Overflow—damage $1,000,000.—This general satisfaction, however, has been overcast during the last two weeks by the most destructive overflow ever experienced in the State. The finest plantations in the valley of the Colorado have been destroyed. In many instances not only fences and buildings, but even the soil itself, has been carried away, so that what but a few days since was a valuable and productive farm, covered with a flourishing crop, is now a wilderness, with its best portion buried in sand. Many who were prosperous, if not wealthy, are now homeless, compelled to seek a livelihood by hiring themselves out to others aw laborers. The damage has been estimated at a million of dollars, but it will be a long time before any just idea can be had of the ruin and distress that will ensue.

Character and support of teachers.—As I have before reported, our principal difficulty is in securing a reliable support for the teachers. Owing to this fact, we can seldom obtain those well qualified for the position, as the remuneration is not sufficient to satisfy them, considering the social ostracism which they are compelled to suffer.

As an illustration of our disadvantages, I will mention an instance that occurred at one of our schools in April last. One of our teachers had been a lieutenant of volunteers in a New York regiment, and, being desirous of remaining in the South, had been employed in one of our best schools, where the remuneration was good and the situation pleasant. After occupying the position several mouths, having obtained tuition a month in advance, he suddenly left, with two board-bills unpaid, and a full mouth's schooling due to his scholars, for which he had collected the pay in advance, making a clean swindle of about $150 in gold. It was impossible to trace him, and he escaped justice, leaving us with the burden of his villainy, both sadder and wiser men.

Arrangements have been made with the American Missionary Association by which we shall be able to obtain a good supply of teachers of the right character for the ensuing year.

It is probable that the attendance will be considerably reduced by the withdrawal of many of the scholars during the picking season, as a child can in a short time, in this way, earn support for the entire year.

Several of our schools will be closed for a vacation until October 1.

School-houses are now contracted for and in progress of building at Galveston, Houston, Halletsville, Brownsville, Walnut Creek.

Inspection.—Inspector General C. H. Howard reports from Texas. His statements confirm in general those made above, giving some additional facts, and testifying to the high character of the northern teachers:

At Galveston there is a large colored population, lmt I was surprised to find no good school-house in the city. The largest and best schools were two taught by the missionaries of the American Missionary Association; one in a colored Baptist church, the other in a dilapidated hall, owned by freedmen, but without windows, desks, or even suitable benches. No school could be as efficient in such a place as in a house adapted to its wants. There was one other, under care of the Bureau, consisting of about thirty pupils, and occupying a colored Methodist Episcopal church in no less dilapidated condition than the hall mentioned. The teacher was paid by the Bureau from a fund peculiar to Texas, derived from the sale of ' confederate government" property. I afterwards ascertained that there were about $5,SOO of this fund remaining, and that about $300 are disbursed monthly for tuition.

I learned that it is extremely difficult to get good teachers in Texas. The insecurity of life and the great expense of sending them are the principal reasons.

Sabbath schools.—Spending a Sunday m Galveston, I attended two of the three Sabbath schools conducted by the lady missionary teachers.' These teachers are no less assiduous in their Sunday labors than on any other day. One of them had raised $100 among the freedmen towards a site for a school-house.

Houston.—I found that the four missionary teachers at Houston sustained each a Sabbath school—one in the Baptist, on« in the Methodist Episcopal church, where the day schools are also held, one in an old hospital building, and one in a private building of the poorest sort, occupied by an old freedman.

Public meeting.—I addressed a large meeting of the freedmen in the evening. Judge Foyle, of the district criminal court, assisted at the meeting. In illustration of the social ostracism suffered by the missionaries, it may not be improper to mention that the wife of Judge Foyle is the only white lady of Houston who has called upon the missionary ladies during the two years of their labor there.

Testimonial to teachers.—An agent of the American Tract Society, who has resided in Texas for twenty years, testifies as follows of these teachers: " I find them all that could be desired in Christian missionaries. They are devoted to the great work of teaching the freedmen, and employ all their leisure in visitation among their flock. I do not think any three pastors in the city visit as much as they do. Scarcely any of the white citizens cultivate their acquaintance. Indeed, I believe I am the only person who is a visitor at their humble home. Not a single minister of the gospel of any denomination has condescended to make their acquaintance, or in any way to recognize them as Christians. All acknowledge that the freedmen should be educated, but no southern white will condescend to engage in the work."

At Richmond and Columbus are tolerably good houses, but the schools have been discontinued. Rev. Joseph Welch, Bureau superintendent for the State, met me at Columbus and accompanied me to Austin. He mentioned several cases of imposition by incompetent and dishonest teachers, arising from the necessity of employing such as offer themselves, if the schools are to be kept open.

Protection.—There are twenty-two places where schools have been opened, but discontinued for want of adequate protection to the teachers. General Reynolds, the present commanding general, informed me that he did not wish the superintendent to esitate to plant schools wherever needed, on account of past threatenings or violence. The greater part of the newspapers, and the citizens who were in sympathy with the rebellion, complain of the return of General Reynolds, and yet all seem to have a wholesome respect for his authority. I found him in entire sympathy with our educational work among the freedmen.

I obtained the promise of a site for a house at San Antonio, and aid in the support of teachers.

The school at Brenham I found had failed for want of a teacher. I was informed that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a boarding place for a white teacher, so bitter is the feeling against whites when laboring for the blacks.

Large field.—One superintendent cannot properly attend to the school work in Texas. It is not only four times larger than any one of the southern States, but the means of traveling are so limited that it is simply impossible for one man to visit every locality in person.

Bureau school-house.—The school-house at Austin, built by the bureau, is a good one. The two ample rooms were well filled. I found a competent man in charge, with a colored assistant. The proficiency of pupils was better than seen elsewhere in Texas. There was a good knowledge of arithmetic, geography, reading, and spelling. A few had commenced the study of grammar. The writing books, as in most of the schools I visited, were neatly kept, and evinced progress in penmanship.

Property.—The freedmen generally in Texas seem to be possessed of more property than in any other State. Several own land in Austin and Houston. Many own their houses in Galveston, but many of the landlords are not willing to sell them land at a fair price. I found it necessary to conceal the olijeet of the purchase, in order to secure a site for the colored school. In their treatment of the colored people, however, there is a constant improvement, though not as rapid as could be wished. If the fifteenth amendment becomes part of the constitution, I have no doubt all the rights of the freedman will soon be respected in Texas as elsewhere.

 

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Third Semi-annual report on schools for freedmen‎ - Page 52January 1, 1867

by United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, John Watson Alvord - Biography & Autobiography - January 1, 1867
Rev. Joseph Welch, Superintendent of Education. The year in Texas closed with a
marked improvement in educational interests. The people generally are ...