|Inspector's Report of Schools for the Freedmen's Bureau, No. 22
War Department, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands
January 1, 1866
Freedmen's Bureau Records
As far as I could learn there have been but two schools in the State under the care of the
assistant commissioner. These are large, having eight hundred and seventeen (817) pupils
enrolled, with fifteen (15) teachers. That at Mobile bears a most rigid examination in all
respects. It is well graded, its teachers thorough, and its discipline excellent The progress
made by the majority is the scholars is truly surprising. The school opened in May, 1865, and
now there are classes in all the different readers, from the Pictorial Primer to the Historical
Fifth Reader. One class is now in fractions, of Robinson's Arithmetic; one class in Intellectual
Arithmetic, reciting in reduction; other classes are well advanced in English grammar and
geography. The teachers publish a monthly paper called The Acorn. This school receives
help from the north, but each pupil, if able, is required to pay a small tuition fee of from 25
cents to 81.25 per month - no child being excluded on account of poverty. The whole amount
received from this tuition has been $1,875.18. The other school is at Montgomery, and is in a
very good condition, with 325 pupils, who pay, in the aggregate, $118 per month tuition.
Arrangements are in progress by your assistant commissioner to have a general system of
schools throughout the State. Governor Parsons favors the work, and some white native
teachers are willing to engage in it. But in the interior, as is true of all these States, much
opposition is manifested, and military protection will, for the present, be needed, especially if
the instructors are to be females.
There are also eleven schools in the northern part of the State, in the division known as the "
Department of the Tennessee," which have hitherto been superintended by the
commissioner of Kentucky and Tennessee. These are about to be transferred to the care of
the commissioner of Alabama. They are at Huntsville, Athens, and Stevenson, and are good
There is a mixture of good and evil to report from this State. Your officers are indefatigable in
their efforts. There are many good schools among the H. Ex. Doc. 70 22 thirty-four in
operation. Some of these have made admirable progress, and a number not included have
started under various auspices in different parts of the State. There is everywhere the usual
eagerness to learn. But in some sections inveterate opposition among the whites is
manifested towards these schools. Two teachers, at the time I was there, were sent to one of
the large towns, twenty-five miles into the country where there was no military, and the next
morning they were ordered off, and threatened if they did not go. This opposition is often
openly avowed, but more generally is tacit and concealed, making itself felt everywhere in a
sort of combination not to allow the freedmen any place in which a school may be taught. A
superintendent in an interior town says: "The opposition to negro education is very great m
my town and neighborhood." Colored men in some instances have paid their own money to
prepare and furnish a room for a school and then have been forbidden to use it, the white
people taking it from them for their own children. Similar things are true of other States,
though in Mississippi such opposition has seemed to be more common than elsewhere, and
yet there are redeeming features. Instances of planters have come to our knowledge who are
desirous of employing teachers for the freed people. One of your officers states that "many
planters are beginning to perceive that schools for the children would be an inducement for
laborers to engage with them." General opposition is undoubtedly decreasing. We notice
expressions of hope from those who are laboring in the State, and it is clear that a steady
system of effort cannot be resisted; as I told one of the planters, "they would find it harder
fighting the alphabet and spelling book than they did Grant and Sherman." He made no reply.
There are now sixty-eight (68) teachers in the State, thirty-four (34) schools, and four
thousand three hundred and ten (4,310) enrolled pupils. More than half of these are
considerably advanced in reading, writing and arithmetic.
In this State a peculiar and very efficient system was inaugurated by Major General Banks, in
his General Order No. 38, March 22, 1864. That order created a board of education for
freedmen, for the department of the Gulf, with power to establish common schools, employ
teachers, erect school-houses, regulate the course of studies, and have generally the same
authority that assessors, supervisors, and trustees have in the northern States, in the matter
of establishing and conducting common schools.
The purpose of the order is stated to be "for the rudimental instruction of the freedmen of the
department, placing within their reach those elements of knowledge which give greater
intelligence and value to labor."
Previously the teaching of a negro had been a "heinous offence." It is true that the children
of the free colored people, who were in good circumstances, (known as "Creoles," generally
of French or Spanish extraction.) when not educated abroad, or from fairness of complexion
by occasional admission to the white schools, were quietly instructed at home, or in a very
few private school? of their class. But for the poor, even of the free colored people, there
were no schools.
Almost immediately upon the above order a great system went into operation and during the
last two years there have been about one hundred and fifty schools for colored children
established in the State, giving employment to two hundred and sixty-five teachers, and
affording instruction to fourteen thousand children and five thousand adults, of which latter
class more than one thousand were soldiers. There have been in New Orleans alone
nineteen large schools, employing one hundred and four teachers, with an average
attendance of five thousand seven hundred and twenty-four pupils. More than fifty thousand
colored pupils, as reported by the local superintendent, have been taught to read in that city
and immediate vicinity, and now they seem to feel more deeply interested than ever in
acquiring knowledge. These are great results. I visited these schools, looked over their
records, heard their recitations, saw their excellent discipline, became acquainted with the
majority of their intelligent teachers, and feel safe in saying that while no State has had so
large an organization, no one has excelled Louisiana in the detailed perfection of their school
system. The charges which have been made that too high salaries were given to teachers I
investigated thoroughly, and found them entirely groundless. The expenses of living in
Louisiana are enormous.
It may be well to state that quite a number of southern white teachers have been employed.
They understand the negro, and their southern origin and education enable them to combat
prejudice against his education.
These teachers may not be equal in some respects to those from the north, but their
willingness to bear jeers and contempt of friends and kindred, and the practical exclusion
from circles which hitherto have received them gladly, entitles them to great consideration.
The superintendent has aimed to select the most capable and worthy of these, but has not
been unmindful of those whose loyal antecedents and consequent suffering from the
rebellion entitle them to sympathy and aid.
Whenever colored teachers, with the requisite ability, have presented themselves he has
made no distinction whatever.
Much opposition has been encountered from those who do not believe in the elevation of the
negroâ€”the more, perhaps, as, by the labor order of General Banks, to obtain his services
they were obliged to help pay for this education. A multitude of facts might be given.
It is the testimony of the superintendent that if the military power should be withdrawn, and
the State once more resume all her functions, our schools would cease to exist, and the
whole moral and political influence of the people of Louisiana be brought to bear against
them. The constitution of 1864 makes it incumbent on the legislature to provide for the
education of colored children, but that constitution is not yet regarded as the law of the land,
and the dominant party demands that it be set aside as not expressing the will of the people.
A member of the legislature, in session while I was at New Orleans, was passing one of the
schools with me, having, at the time, its recess, the grounds about the building being filled
with children. He stopped and looked intently, then earnestly inquired "Is this a school? "Yes,"
I replied. What! of niggers? "These are colored children, evidently," I answered. "Well! Well!"
said he, and raising his hands, "I have seen many an absurdity in my lifetime, but this is the
climax of absurdities!" I was sure he did not speak for effect, but as he felt. He darted from
me like an arrow, and turned the next corner to take his seat with legislators similarly
It was with regret that I learned, while in the State, that the collection of the general tax for
colored schools was suspended by military order. The consternation of the colored
population was intense. They could not consent to have their children sent away from study,
and at once expressed willingness to be assessed for the whole expense. Their part of the
ordinary public school tax they were already paying, though not sharing its benefits, but they
petitioned General Canby to levy an added tax upon them for their own schools. The New
Orleans Tribune (colored daily paper) opposed this on the ground that it was without
representation, and so did many of the rich Creoles; but the middle and lower classes of the
freedmen could not be restrained. Petitions began to pour in. I saw one from the plantations
across the river, at least thirty feet in length, representing ten thousand negroes. It was
affecting to examine it to note the names and marks (X ) of each, a long list of parents
ignorant themselves, but begging that their children might be educated, promising that from
beneath their present burdens, and out of their extreme poverty, they would pay for it. I am
happy to add that upon the back of that petition was indorsed the name of