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Up From Slavery: A Documentary History of Negro Education

Compiled By Rudolph Lewis

 

 

A Religious Journal Exhorts Slaveowners

on the Instruction and Treatment of their Slaves, 1859

 

The religious instruction of our servants is a matter of such importance, and uniformly excites so much interest among Christians at the South, that we feel sure we shall obtain ready and solemn attention to what we now feel constrained to say on that momentous subject. From their peculiar relation to our colored population, the churches of Jesus Christ in the Southern States have the duty of devolving on them of attending to this interest. With reference to it as your spiritual overseers--exercising a watchful care over that part of His fold which the Great Shepherd hath committed to us--we desire to address you in the fear of the Lord.

We, as Presbyterians, are especially bound to consider these duties, and to act with reference to them. Our land has been kept in agitation, both in Church and State, by mad politicians and fanatical reformers, these many years; and now we see several of the leading churches of our land rent asunder--divided by geographical lines--and the pillars of the Republic are made to tremble. But God has mercifully preserved our church from all this storm of passion and fanaticism--and we are still, thanks to His great name, a united church, in faith, in worship, and in labor--united in all the work and duty belonging to us as a Christian Church. 

Doubtless many and varying opinions are held among us, North and South, on the difficult subject of negro slavery; but, in everything pertaining to our duties and calling as a Church of the Lord Jesus, we are perfectly united. And hence, our Annual Assemblies are freed from all scenes of excitement; and, as a denomination, we have been able to address ourselves to the great business of preaching the Gospel, which is our high calling, both to the free and the bond--both at home and abroad, with abundant evidences of the Divine favor, and with increasing manifestations of popular confidence.

Nor has our own branch of the Church Catholic as such, nor the Southern portions of it in particular, been wholly remiss, in reference to the religious care of our servants. The General Assembly, by repeated injunctions and annual inquiry, has kept the subject fresh before the conscience of the church --many of our best and ablest ministers have devoted themselves, in whole or in part, to special labor for the salvation of these people--and our Southern Churches, Presbyterics and Synods, are yearly showing an increased interest and watchfulness in reference to it. 

Among our own churches, this Presbytery is glad to know and to record the fact, that religious privileges are enjoyed by the servants in very many places in common with their masters, such as to leave them without excuse. And several of our churches report a large colored membership, even equal to, or larger than, the membership of whites. But we are painfully aware, at the same time, that in many places, even among our own people, in reference to this duty, there is great neglect, arising doubtless, in some measure, from a lack of interest in religion itself; but, also, in great part, we fear, from a too low or an inadequate estimate of the true responsibilities of masters and churches in reference to the religious care of our servants.

1807 commemorative plaque to William Wilberforce, "the most strenuous Advocate of the Abolition of the flagitious African Slave Trade"

Nothing is more clear from the Sacred Scriptures, than that a man's servants are considered as a part of his own household, for the social and moral, as well as economical care of whom, he is responsible to God and man. The father of the faithful himself was especially commended, because he was faithful in training his household to worship and serve God. And this particular commendation is so given, as to carry with it an assurance of the Divine blessing on those who follow the footsteps of the venerable patriarch in this respect--and, by immediate and necessary consequence, to denounce a curse on those who neglect this solemn responsibility. 

Since the master stands in this particular relation to his servants--to the law and the Commonwealth he is responsible for their social and physical welfare--and to God and His church, for their moral care and their religious instruction. As the Commonwealth holds the master responsible for the conduct of his servants, and places the control of them in his hands for that end--by very necessity, as well as by the law of Christ, their religious instruction is lodged in his hands, insomuch that, unless he provide for it in some way, it becomes an utter impossibility. And hence, the higher you make the rights of the master, whether viewed in the light of God's law, or that of the State, the more stringent become his obligations, and the more fearful his responsibilities for the moral elevation and the religious education of the servant.

The Scriptural argument for slavery, as an institution recognized by God, has no force the moment as to deny these moral and religious duties; but, in so far as we recognize the Scriptural argument, it carries with it a tremendous power in enforcing on the conscience of the master these heavy and tremendous obligations for which he must render an account to God. And we here desire to say, as a Presbytery, that we are glad out fellow--citizens of all classes in the South are now more and more disposed to examine the subject in its Scriptural aspects, and to found the mutual duties of the relation on Scriptural grounds For that places it on such a basis that every master must see and feel these obligations, and cannot preserve a good conscience before God or man unless he discharge them. It is a good thing, therefore, for the Southern church--a good thing for the master--aye, and a glorious thing for the servant, that this is becoming among us the popular way of examining this whole question, and of determining the duties and mutual obligations as well as moral responsibilities arising out of the relation. And one of the chief purposes we have in view in addressing you, is to bring before your minds afresh some of these weighty duties in all the force of their moral and Scriptural bearing.

1. The true Scriptural idea of slavery is that of the patriarchal relation. This is abundantly taught in the history of the old patriarchs--in the economy of the Jews--and in the apostolic epistles. The master is essentially the head of the household in all relations--the head of his wife--the head over his children--and the head over his servants. His duties as such, under the patriarchal dispensation, made him the priest of the family--under the Mosaic economy as such, he made provision for their introduction into the Jewish Church, and for their religious care--and, as a necessary consequence, under the Christian dispensation he is placed under an analogous relation, requiring from him corresponding duties, in securing them the benefits of the Christian Church.

2. Slavery, as an institution of society, is simply a form of government; and is a safe and valuable institution just in so far as it is administered with equity. 

This principle the apostle teaches, with great clearness and force, when he commands masters to render unto their servants that which is just and equal; and when he assures them of their direct accountability to God. Servants are essentially the poor of the land--usually, in the history of the human family, we find that they have been taken from the more ignorant and depraved tribes of men, and subjected to those who were in all respects their superiors; and this has emphatically been the case among us. 

Government has for its object the restraining of the passions of bad men, the protection and defence of the ignorant and the helpless, and the maintenance of the essential rights of all. The master, in a system of servitude such as prevails with us, must hence occupy a two-fold relation to his servants, viz: that of the parent to train, to provide for, to protect and to instruct them; and that of the magistrates to control, restrain and punish them. If all these duties are discharged aright, it is fraught with untold blessings to the ignorant and the helpless, and becomes to them a safe and sure means of their progressive elevation in the moral and intellectual scale. 

A warning poster to fugitive slaves after the law of 1850.

But so, also, if these same duties are neglected, or if the power put into the hands of the master for the good of his servant be abused by him, the institution becomes, on the other hand, a source of immeasurable evil to the master and the servants, and renders the whole system dangerous as a very volcano, ready to burst with fearful and destructive violence upon us. Happily for us, in our great and noble Commonwealth, the law clearly recognizes and abundantly enforces, by solemn sanctions, these great principles, so far as the physical well-being and the civil rights of our servants are concerned; but those other duties, pertaining to the spiritual welfare of the servant, it leaves, as it were by necessity, to the master and the Church of Christ.

3. Servitude does not have for its end nor object the degrading of the slave as a human being, but rather his elevation. Under our laws, and under every just government, all his rights as a human being are clearly confessed; his rights as a member of the Common-wealth to its protection, and his responsibility as a constituent part of it, are all clearly defined and distinctly embodied in the law. Obedience to law, and obedience to lawful authority, are entirely consistent with the highest development of the human faculties, where the laws infringe on none of the moral rights of man, and where authority is enforced with justice and equity. 

The most noble qualities of our nature shine out beautifully and touchingly in the life of David, while he was servant of a most unrighteous master; and, among the noblest specimens of the human character, in the lofty dignity of the truest manliness, stands forth Eliezer of Damascus, the steward of Abraham's household. The reason of this, in the case of David, was, that his heart was full of the fear of the Lord; and, in the case of Eliezer, because his master was a man of faith, who trained his household to worship and serve God. Among us, also, may be found some noble specimens of the true and cultivated gentleman; and also of humble, exemplary and godly Christians, who were born and raised to servitude, but surrounded by Christian influences and example. 

But, on the other hand, neglect, evil example, unjust and cruel treatment, both the master and the slave, and justly bring down on the offender the wrath of God, and the condign punishment of the State. For the well-being of the Commonwealth, as well as for the true interests of the citizen and the subject, it is absolutely essential that every member of the State, of whatever condition, should not only feel his responsibility, but should also have a conscious assurance of his own rights. The knowledge that he enjoys this protection at the hands of his master, and from the State, elevates the servant as a moral being-binds him more strongly in attachment to the house-hold of which he forms a part-and prepares the way for further and more enlarged efforts for his spiritual good.

4. The true idea of all government, of whatever kind, is the good of the governed--a maxim which lies at the basis of all true government, which is inwrought into the theory and structure of our American constitutions, and which is universally conceded. This same principle the apostle teaches, in enjoining obedience to rulers, when he declares that they are "ministers of God to thee for good": and, also, when he enjoins masters to do that which is just and equal. They, on their part, are commanded to be obedient servants, in view of their accountability to God; but this injunction is immediately connected with the exhortation and the other harmonize beautifully in their effects, when both parties discharged their duties in God's fear. 

The master has the control of the person, and enjoys the labor of his servant, in return for his personal care, in freeing him from want, providing him the things necessary and convenient, protecting him in the enjoyment of all his personal and moral rights, and securing to him Gospel privileges.

Negro slaves were thought particularly suited to the labor of picking cotton

5. The moral law is the absolute rule of moral duty, and so also it is the character of human rights. It is the right of every human being, prince, subject and citizen, parents and children, masters and servants, to obey the law of God. No government in the commonwealth or in the household, can be called any thing less than unrighteous, which denies to any of God's intelligent creatures the right of obeying these moral commands, or which inhibits the free exercise of that right. One of the very highest duties of the master, in rendering to his servants that which is just and equal, is to secure for them the right and opportunity to worship and obey God, to protect them in the free exercise, and to encourage them in the constant practice thereof.

6. The responsibilities of the master are analogous to those of the parent. But in some respects they are more fearful and more abiding. Children and servants alike are dependent on the parent and master respectively for all moral culture and religious opportunities-and on these last, instrumentally, depends in great measure their salvation. But children, by the law of God and the land, when they are at their majority, are freed from the law of the family, and have to sustain a personal responsibility thereafter. Whereas, the servant's minority is ended only at death, and the responsibility of the master ends only at the grave of his servant. Great and tremendous, therefore, are his duties,--and, if unfaithful, awful must be his account at the judgment bar.

In view of principles such as these derived from the word of God, and from the very nature of the relation of master and servant, how momentous are the obligations of the master? In the providence of God, he has the control of moral and accountable beings, who must appear with him at the judgment bar, to be sentenced to heaven or to hell. How fearful a thing is an immortal soul? and oh! what interests cluster around it, as we consider its nature which bears the image of God; or when we contemplate its destiny, as an inhabitant of heaven, or as a prisoner in the gulf of perdition. 

And yet in all your dealings with your servants, you are impressing them for eternity; and, in every view we take of the subject, whether derived from the Divine word or from the principles of government and the nature of the relation, we find ourselves brought into contact with immortal and accountable beings, whom, by our efforts and influence, with God's blessing, we may lead to heaven--and whom, by that same influence misdirected, we may consign to hell . . .

Finally, brethren, remember, "that ye also have a Master in heaven." For all the deeds done in the body we must give account unto God; and especially is this so of your masters, to whom he has committed this great stewardship, involving the personal care, the civil protection, and moral elevation, the religious training, and the final salvation of your servants. These duties devolve on you, not only by the laws of the State, which commits them to you so absolutely that nothing can be done nor attempted without your co-operation; but, also, by the law of Christ, which exhorts you to give the Gospel to every creature,--commands you to render unto your servants that which is just and equal,--declares "that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether bond or free," and hence only promises its blessings on you, when you train, not only your children, but your households to the service of God. 

For your fidelity in the discharge of this steward-ship, the Great Master himself will call you to a reckoning--the same Master, Jesus, who died for you, and who died for them. And, know assuredly, that whosoever giveth a cup of cold water to a disciple, even the humblest, in the name of a disciple, shall receive a disciple's reward. Remember at all times, and in the discharge of all duties, the judgment seat to which both you and your servants are rapidly hurrying, and strive so to live and act as to receive yourselves, and secure for them, the glad welcome of good and faithful servants. 

Strive to be so faithful to your servants, in this behalf, that, by God's blessing, you may render their lives upright and Christian that you may animate them in the midst of their toil for you with the hopes of an immortality of blessedness--and that at death they may close their eyes in the sweet sleep of the Christian, invoking and pronouncing on your heads the blessings of grateful hearts, as they pass from you to the uninterrupted service of the Master above, there to await you, and to become stars in your crown of rejoicing, when you also shall be called up. And, oh! brethren, be so faithful, that at that day and hour of fearful reckoning, it shall not be brought to your charge, that your want of faithfulness has consigned any of your servants to the doom of a fearful hell.

Brethren beloved in the Lord, we are done. With all simplicity and fidelity we have aimed to lay before you your whole duty in this great and responsible matter, not doubting that what we have said will meet a unanimous response from all of your hearts, and we trust will produce its fruit in your lives. If you can justify yourselves, happy are you, and God shall bless you. If you are constrained to confess much shortcoming--as, alas! we know many must--then, brethren, let us trust that, by God's grace, you will now begin to discharge your duty. And let us all remember that your time is short, and whatever we do must be done quickly. May we all, ministers and people, masters and servants, so live and so act, that when we shall be called hence we shall meet together in the great congregation above.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

The Southern Presbyterian Review, XII (1859).·This article was prepared as a Pastoral Letter of the Presbytery of Tombeckbee to the churches and people under its care, but is of general interest to all members of the Presbyterian Church, especially those whose lot is cast in the Southern States.-Eda. S.P.R.

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Sources:

Chapter VI. "The Instruction of Negroes." In Edgar W. Knight.. A Documentary History of Education in the South before 1860. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1953

Chapter 10 "Up From Slavery: Educational and other Rights of Negroes." In Edgar W. Knight and Clifton L. Hall. Readings in American Educational History. New York Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1951.

Many states had laws prohibiting the education of blacks; here black youngsters are turned away at the school door

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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