Northern abolitionists saw clearly that southern blacks needed formal education. As the Civil War ended and towns across the South came under Union control, northern missionary societies sent teachers, ministers, and others to provide food, clothing, and other necessities, as well as education and religious training. The federal government also contributed to the education of freed slaves through the Freedmen’s Bureau. Motivated by religious zeal, political ambition, or a combination of the two, churches and wealthy individuals began to establish philanthropic organizations.
The energetic efforts of benevolent societies and the Freedmen’s Bureau were greeted with enthusiasm by Lynchburg’s freedpeople. Within six months of the surrender at Appomattox, there were four black schools in Lynchburg, with eight teachers and one superintendent attending to a daily enrollment of five hundred students. But despite their enthusiasm, southern blacks refused to allow either white southerners or northern philanthropists to control their schools. And white southerners criticized northern philanthropists for their patronizing and disdainful attitude toward the South and for what sometimes appeared to be their attempts to monopolize education.
Northern philanthropists provided teachers, buildings, materials, and funds for southern black schools but did little to challenge white supremacy. In an effort to appease southern whites’ hostility to their efforts, northern philanthropists accepted racial segregation. They did not address the root problems of poverty, racial injustice, and disfranchisement.