Early Black yearning for public education

March 19, 2014

To the editor:

After emancipation, African-Americans in Richmond County were very interested in the once-forbidden education of their children.

At one period in the late 1800s, more black children were in public school than white children and for a longer school term each year. While black children were studying in school, many white children were laboring in the fields.

Attorney Terry Garner of Laurinburg delivered a review of recently published information in a program before the Richmond County Historical Society about some of the reasons for the separation of Richmond and Scotland counties.

In the 1898 election, he said white supremacy (racism) played a key role in local politics. Besides blacks in Richmond County holding local public offices (although still in a minority), demand then for equal schools for black children was an issue causing the white supremacy movement to gain a hold on whites.

The reason for the separation in 1899 has been said to be the distance from the now Scotland County to the court house in Rockingham. That was just part of the reason.

In 1893 in Richmond County, about 35 percent of white children attended public schools compared to 60 percent of black children, Garner said. There was always hunger then of blacks for education. Of course, there were private schools for both races as well.

In 1884, white children attended seven weeks of school; black children, 14. Even though financial support for black schools was lower than for whites, the longer black school term cost more.

Reconstruction left many white farmers — and others — feeling “victimized” through taxation to support such public education, and felt they had no choice other than to become white supremacists.

I’ve often wondered how many people then and now play the “race card” to get and keep political power more so than have real personal racial feelings.

I also wonder what those black children and their newly emancipated, education-hungry parents of the 1800s would think if they had the opportunities which would be available to them today.

Tom MacCallum