“THE VERY MESSENGERS OF GOD”: THE TEACHERS OF ALABAMA’S FREEDPEOPLE, 1865-1870
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Using Freedmen’s Bureau records, the papers of the American Missionary Association, and other materials, the author identified 585 individuals who taught ex-slaves in Alabama between 1865 and 1870. The thesis describes their sex, race, and geographical origins, their motives for teaching, the high rate of turnover, and a growing number of black teachers. It examines the teachers’ work in the classroom and the many challenges they faced. It argues that the schools survived only because of the ex-slaves’ own commitment to education and the lengths to which the teachers went in order to keep their schools in operation. Finally, the thesis explores the teachers’ interactions with their surrounding communities. While some white Alabamians were supportive, others expressed hostility through social ostracism, physical assault, arson, and even murder. Especially in the face of such white opposition, the teachers relied heavily upon freedpeople to help build, maintain, and protect the schools.