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 Believing that she could provide a higher standard of education than Georgia's

public schools for Negroes, Lucy Laney decided to open her own school with the encouragement

of the Christ Presbyterian Church, USA, and chose the city of Augusta

 

 

Marching to a Different Drummer

Unrecognized Heroes of American History

By Robin Kadison Berson

Lucy Craft Laney

 (1854-1933)

 

Born in slavery, Lucy Craft Laney (1854-1933) became one of the most influential education in post-Reconstruction Georgia. Both her mother Louisa and father David Laney, a skilled carpenter, were slaves; however, her father bought his freedom as a young man and in turn bought the freedom of his wife and children. Lucy was seven of their ten children. The Reverend David Laney also received ordination through the Northern Presbyterian branch of the church in that they set no racial limitation of ministry. Generous support, integrity, and dignity were general traits of this family.

Her mother Louis continued to work for the Miss Campbell who had owned her. Miss Campbell opened her private library  to the young Lucy and guided her study.

With the encouragement and financial support of Miss Campbell , Lucy attended Lewis High School in Macon. At this point, Atlanta University was just taking shape with the support of the American Missionary Association, an abolitionist organization responsible for founding many of the South's fine black colleges. Lucy Laney was selected as a member of the first class at Atlanta University. An eager student, she was one of four members of the first graduating class in 1873. (Berson, 188).

Lucy entered the first class of Atlanta University in 1869 at the age of 15. After graduation from Atlanta University, Laney began a lifelong career as an educator and the founder of numerous institutions for the uplift of freedmen and their children. She taught first, for ten years,  in the public schools of Savannah, Macon, and Milledgeville. Much of her efforts were curtailed by the reactionary phases of Reconstruction and post Reconstruction Georgia.

African American teachers were paid far less than white teachers, usually no more than twelve to eighteen dollars a month. Out of every dollar spent on public education, ninety-three cents went to white schools and only seven cents to black education. But budgetary constraints, however distorted, were not really the most basic consideration: if that was the case, Southern whites would have welcomed the teachers who came to the black schools through the Northern philanthropies and freedmen's aid societies and freedmen's aid societies, since these teachers placed no  financial burden on local school districts. What underlay all of Southern educational policy was a determination not to lose the inexpensive, subservient agricultural labor pool the freedmen represented. . . . Even more pernicious was the widespread attitude that a liberal education might leave African Americans dissatisfied with the only role in Southern society whites intended to permit them (Berson, 189).

Believing that she could provide a higher standard of education than Georgia's public schools for Negroes, Lucy Laney decided to open her own school with the encouragement of the Christ Presbyterian Church, USA, and chose the city of Augusta which provided no schools for black children. Various Negro aid societies provided  some funds. The school opened on January 6, 1883 in the basement of the Christ Presbyterian Church (10 and Telfair Street), starting with five children, Laney had within a couple of years over 200 students enrolled in her school.

 

Laney's school offered literature, classics, mathematics, and a required course in African American history. Laney was an early and passionate believer in the centrality of racial and family pride in the education of a confident, competent, humane individual. Her curriculum emphasized the contributions of blacks in a variety of fields. She brought local African American artists and craftspeople to the school to demonstrate and discuss their work. With the assistance of an early German immigrant, she launched a school orchestra. All of this ran directly counter to the prevailing trend of "industrial" education for blacks. the accommodationist philosophy of Booker T. Washington was what whites wanted to hear (Berson, 189).

In 1885, the first class was graduated from Ms. Laney’s school. The school was chartered in the state of Georgia in 1886, but with over 20 students Laney's school was in need of a larger facility. In 1887 Laney traveled to Minnesota to tell the Presbyterian Church Convention about her school and the need for funding. Though the Church did not fill the need for greater resources, Francine Haines, the secretary of the Women's Executive Committee of Home Missions, was impressed by Lucy Laney's appeal. 

 

Haines was deeply struck by Laney's sense of purpose and determination that she launched her own crusade for the school among her wealthy friends. Eventually, Haines's campaign would bear fruit in the form of major contributions from several Northern women; the buildings erected with the entire school were named in honor Haines, the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute. (Berson, 190-191)

Haines came up with $10,000 for the expansion of the school. Relocated to 800 Gwinett (Laney-Walker Blvd.) Street, Haines Institute survived until the onset of the Depression. Before her death from nephritis and hypertension in October 1933, Lucy Craft Laney started the first black kindergarten in Augusta, Georgia and the first black nursing school in the city, the Lamar School of Nursing. She influenced many by her work at Haines, including John Hope, a Haines graduate and the first African American president of Atlanta University;  and Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of Bethune-Cookman.

 

W.E.B. DuBois called her "the dark vestal virgin who kept the fires of Negro education fiercely flaming in the rich but mean-spirited city of Augusta, Georgia" (James, 651). For sixty years she had maintained a fierce, compelling vision of the precious worth of each individual; she had lived with a moral urgency to elicit from each child the personal excellence she believed innate in all people. 

Sources:

Anderson, James D. "Northern Foundations and the Shaping of Southern Black Rural Education, 1902-1935." In B. Edward McClellan and William J. Reese, eds. The Social History of American Education. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Daniel, Sadie. Women Builders. Washington, DC: Associated Publishing, 1931.

Griggs, A.C. "Lucy Craft Laney." Journal of Negro History 52 (August, 1986): 97-102. [Fist published January 1934.]

Grimke, Francis J. The Works of Francis J. Grimke. Edited by Carter Woodson. Washington, DC: Associated Publishing, 1942. Vol. 4.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Laney, Lucy. "A Progress Report from the Founder of the Haines School." In Gerda Lerner, ed. Black Women in White America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.

Loewenberg, Bert James and Ruth Bogin, eds. Black Women in Nineteenth-Century American Life: Their Words, Their Thoughts, Their Feelings. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

McCrorey, Mary Jackson. "Lucy Laney." The Crisis 41 (June 1934): 161.

Ovington, Mary White. Portraits in Color. New York: Viking Press, 1927.

Sterne, Emma Gelders. Mary McLeod Bethune. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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