Grades K-3

K.2 describe everyday life in the present and in the past and begin to recognize that things change over time

Entire exhibit

Overview: During and after the slave-holding era, Central Virginia’s African Americans struggled and sacrificed to educate themselves and their children. Slaves violated the law to teach each other to read and write. Emancipated blacks knew that education was the cornerstone of their freedom. With the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau and northern philanthropists and missionaries, African Americans quickly established schools in Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, and Campbell.

Black Central Virginians advocated tax-supported public education for all children. After racially segregated public schools opened in 1871, African Americans worked tirelessly to oppose educational inequality and to improve their poorly funded schools. Over and over, black citizens of Lynchburg and the surrounding counties demonstrated their belief in the motto that appeared on a freedmen’s school blackboard in the 1860s: “Knowledge is power. Try, try again.”

Exhibit Topics: The Slave-Holding Era, The Civil War and Reconstruction, Vocational Education, Self-Help and Advocacy, Philanthropy, Higher Education, Public Schools (Lynchburg, Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Campbell), Virginia Seminary, Separate But Equal?

3.10.c explain that the rights of citizens include responsibilities with emphasis on participating in the improvement of life in the school and in the community

Gallery One: Self-Help and Philanthropy


Central Virginia’s African Americans not only pressed for schools for black children but also donated funds and land. The American Baptist Home Missionary Society, along with black churches such as Jackson Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Lynchburg, Mount Zion in Campbell County, and Rose Chapel in Amherst County, played pivotal roles in creating and supporting schools.

As early as 1866, Emmeline and Carrington Ellis were conducting an independent school for free blacks on Thirteenth Street in Lynchburg. In 1868 black citizens asked the Freedmen’s Bureau to start a school at Camp Davis. This action led blacks to organize the Educational Association of Lynchburg, also known as the Howard Educational Association, and to push for establishment of the Polk Street School.

In 1876 a committee of black citizens, determined to secure the advantages of education for their children, requested addition of a black high school. Their lobbying led to establishment of the Jackson Street High School, which opened in 1881. A year later, black citizens’ successful petition to the school board resulted in appointment of Jacob Yoder as principal of Lynchburg’s black schools. In 1908, with the formation of the Civic and Educational League by the city’s leading African American citizens, advocacy for better schools and better educational opportunities led to instruction in Latin in the high school, black teachers for the high school, and salary increases for these teachers.

In 1880 white teachers filled the majority of positions in the black schools, with only 785 of Virginia’s 1,256 African American schools having black teachers. But as teacher training programs enlarged the pool of black teachers, they gradually replaced whites. All over the South, petitions were made to local school boards to hire black teachers for black schools.

Most African Americans preferred that their children learn from other African Americans. Black teachers provided strong models for black students and tended to be more sympathetic than whites to the situation of black students, as well as more willing to mingle with their pupils’ families and with the larger African American community. Working for the good of the community that hired them, these teachers were in turn supported with monetary donations, supplies, and room and board. African American teachers reflected racial pride. By 1884, fourteen of the nineteen teachers in Lynchburg’s black schools were African Americans.


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.

Anna T. Jeanes

Motivated by a desire to promote Christianity, Anna T. Jeanes, a wealthy, single Quaker from Philadelphia, became interested in southern blacks’ struggle for education. At her request and with her financial support, Booker T. Washington organized a board of trustees with the goal of providing supervisors as consultants and helpers for poor rural schools. The Jeanes Foundation, established in 1907, became known as the Negro Rural School Fund. Until the late 1960s, when black teachers and students were absorbed into integrated schools, the Jeanes Foundation paid for supervisors in Amherst and Bedford Counties.

The Jeanes Foundation was modeled on the work of Virginia Cabell Randolph, a black teacher in the Richmond area (not to be confused with the Lynchburg educator of the same name) who emphasized vocational education, visited her students in their homes, and helped improve their health and sanitation. She became the first Jeanes Supervisor and worked in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Julius Rosenwald (d. 1932)

Julius Rosenwald, an early partner in Sears, Roebuck and later president of the company, became interested in philanthropy “that addressed fundamental issues of equity, access and opportunity.” Rosenwald wished to promote self-reliance among African Americans by requiring them to add their own sacrificial contributions to his. At the time of Rosenwald’s death, the South had seen completion of 5,357 Rosenwald schools. His total contribution of $4.4 million was matched by $18 million in government funds, $1.2 million from private foundations, and $4.7 million from individual African Americans. Rosenwald schools were built in Amherst and Appomattox counties.

The Megginson Elementary School in Campbell County is typical of the Rosenwald school style.

George Peabody

Born in Danvers, Massachusetts, a school dropout at age eleven, George Peabody went on to establish a successful wholesale dry goods business in Baltimore. In 1867 he established the Peabody Education Fund, directing his energy toward promoting education in the South. According to History of Negro Education in the South, Peabody told the fund’s trustees that he wished his money to go to “promotion and encouragement of intellectual, moral, and industrial education among the young of the more destitute portions of the Southern and Southwestern states . . . .”

Lynchburg’s black schoolchildren knew of George Peabody. When Orra Langhorne visited Fannie Harvey’s class in Lynchburg in 1880, the students discussed school funding. “Miss Fannie” asked the children, “What benevolent man bequeathed a large sum of money to aid Southern education?” and the students replied, “Mr. Peabody.” The Peabody Fund was the first educational philanthropy in the United States.

John L. Slater

With the 1882 inheritance of his uncle’s textile business in Connecticut, John L. Slater donated a million dollars to create the first philanthropy in the United States devoted exclusively to African American education. Inspired by the success of George Peabody, Slater specified that his fund be used “for the uplifting of the lately emancipated population of the Southern States and their posterity by conferring on them the blessings of Christian education.” Grants from the Slater Fund helped develop black colleges and high schools as well as institutions for teacher training and industrial education.

3.11 explain the importance of the basic principles of American democracy that unify the citizens as a nation by describing the individual rights to . . . equality under the law

Gallery Two: Separate But Equal?

Separate But Equal?

In the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court affirmed racial segregation as national policy, declaring that “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional. The case arose from a Louisiana law providing for separate railway cars for whites and blacks. Many such “Jim Crow” laws were passed in southern states, at least in part to stop poor whites from making political and economic alliances with blacks that could threaten the established order in the South.

“Separate but equal” translated into “separate and unequal” for many publicly funded institutions. These two photographs of Virginia public schools, c. 1915, illustrate the vast difference in educational facilities provided for black and white students.

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