OHIO VALLEY — The end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States ended the enslavement of four million people, but left the nation with a quandary.
The question on everyone’s mind was “what comes next?” The Southern states were decimated by the war. Plantations and crops lay in ruins. The labor provided by enslaved people had vanished, making it impossible for the owners to rebuild.
The former slaves had been prevented from getting an education, and other than their freedom, they had little else besides “that which some sympathetic white persons offered” according to the Journal of Negro History.
How could the nation move forward until the situation was addressed, and how could freemen find their place in a world in which they had been an enslaved only days before?
President Abraham Lincoln (Republican) had anticipated the need of the freed slaves, and initiated the Freeman’s Bureau Bill which established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen’s Bureau) in the War Department. Its original one-year mission was to provide assistance to former slaves and impoverished whites in the Southern States and the District of Columbia. The Bureau began in 1865 and its powers were expanded to include assisting African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated, arranging educational opportunities, and acting as legal advocates.
The Bureau sought to bring the plantation owners, also know as major planters, and former slaves together in a way that would be equitable to both parties as part of the Reconstruction effort for the Southern States. The Bureau encouraged the former major planters to rebuild, and encouraged freed Blacks to return to work for them as employees. The idea was to have white and Black people working together as employers and employees in a free labor market rather than as masters and slaves.
Representative from the Bureau found their work exceptionally difficult due in part to the passage of laws by Southern legislatures that restricted movement, conditions of labor and other civil rights of the freed people. These laws were known as Black Codes and in effect nearly duplicated the conditions of slavery.
When Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, Vice President Andrew Johnson (Democrat) became president. Congress renewed the Bureaus charter in 1866, and Johnson vetoed the bill. He believed that it “encroached on states’ rights, relied inappropriately on the military in peacetime, and would prevent freed slaves from becoming independent by offering too much assistance.”
Congress overrode the veto, but the Bureau was soon hampered by an effort from Southern Democrats that reduced the Bureau’s funding. The result was a cut in staff, which prevented many of the programs to be fully realized.
Without the oversight of the Bureau, there was a rise in violence by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the Southern states. The KKK targeted Blacks, sympathetic white Republicans, and teachers, which led to the further weakening of the Bureau’s effectiveness.
Northern Democrats also began to oppose the Bureau’s work. In 1872, with Ulysses S. Grant now president, Congress discontinued the program by refusing to authorize renewal legislation. The Bureau’s absence meant there was no longer a government effort to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical services, and land to displaced Southerners, including newly freed African Americans.
The program ended without much success except in the area of education. More than 1,000 Black schools were built and over $400,000 (equivalent to $6 million today) spent to establish teacher-training institutions.
West Virginia has several examples of the successful establishment of primary, secondary, and higher education schools, including the Langston School in Point Pleasant, W.Va. and the West Virginia Colored Institute, now West Virginia State University.
Across the river in the Ohio counties of Gallia and Meigs, schools were also established to provide education to freed slaves. Since slavery was never allowed in the state of Ohio, it had been a place where runaway slaves could seek refuge, and there was more openness to the education of Blacks. Many had become teachers, and were able to fill the demand for educator in the newly opened Black schools in West Virginia.
An example of a Black school in Meigs county that produced such educators is the Kerr’s Run Colored School in Pomeroy. Operated from the late 1880s through the early 1900s, the school boasts several outstanding students that include James Edwin Campbell and James McHenry Jones, the first and third presidents of what is now West Virginia State University (formerly West Virginia Colored Institute).
Before becoming president of the Institute, Campbell was principle of the Point Pleasant Colored School, which later renamed the Langston School. This institution was organized in 1867 by Eli Coleman, its first teacher, in a one- room frame structure at the end of Sixth Street.
According to the Journal of Negro History this was a “school of consequence.”
An exert from the Journal describes the school: At the very beginning the enrolment was sixty-four, some of the students being adults. The school continued as an ungraded establishment for a number of years, working against many handicaps, until the independent district was established and provided better facilities. This school then had a board of five trustees, three whites and two Negroes, and was incorporated into the city system by the Board of Education and placed under the supervision of the Superintendent of the Point Pleasant Public Schools. The Board of Education then secured the services of J. E. Campbell as principal (1891-1892). Under him the school moved into a five-story brick structure vacated by a white school when better quarters for the latter had been provided. The Negro school was then named the Langston Academy in honor of John Mercer Langston, a Negro congressman and public official of wide reputation. Miss Iva Wilson of Gallipolis succeeded Mr. Campbell as principal, with Miss Jordan as assistant.”
Gallia County also contributed to the education of Black students with schools that date back to the 1830’s. The Gallipolis Colored School opened in 1868. The high school department of the school began in 1877 and was later named the Lincoln School. An example of a successful graduate was O.J.W. Scott. Born in 1867, Scott graduated and went on to attend Ohio Wesleyan University, graduating with the highest honors in the oratory department. He attended Drew Seminary and received a bachelor’s degree, then added degrees from the University of Denver and Payne Theological Seminary at Wilberforce. Scott pastored some of the largest black churches in America including the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington D.C.
With what seemed like a positive beginning to the education and assimilation of the freemen, schools and many other institutions were not integrated. One justification for the separation of Blacks and whites in schools at the end of the Civil War was that Blacks were lacking a basic education and so required separate schooling to “catch up” to white students.
Civil War era legislation called the Morill Act also encouraged the advancement in education of African Americans by providing for the establishment of schools supported by the sale of public lands in order to teach agriculture, engineering, and military tactics. An update in 1890 required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color.
The West Virginia state constitution prohibited Black and white students from being educated together, but provided for a “separate but equal educational opportunity.” The West Virginia Legislature founded the West Virginia Colored Institute in 1891 in order to comply with the Morill Act.
The “separate but equal” education of Blacks across the United States allowed many to succeed, but also led to others being prevented the educational opportunities available to white students.
More information on the Morill Act and James Edwin Campbell can be found in the following article: https://www.mydailyregister.com/news/57595/the-writings-of-james-campbell
Sources include Journal of Negro History, the writings of James Sands provided by Gallia County Historical Society, West Virginia State University Archives, United States Senate Records, Freedmans Bureau National Archives African American History.
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.