The educational system of the Jim Crow South was designed to limit opportunities for Black Americans, relegating them to roles of servitude and financial dependence. Though the laws of the country required that an education was available to all, the practices limited the quantity and quality of the education.
Fewer schools at distances too far to travel each day deterred many black children from attending. Parents tried to find relatives, friends, acquaintances, or boarding houses near the schools. Children were frequently forced to live apart from their families if they wanted an education.
The facilities were substandard to the schools provided for the white students such as old buildings without heat, lighting, or plumbing; with leaking roofs or falling structures; and too small for the number of students. The materials and equipment were often the used leftovers from the white schools, and not enough to go around. The educational programs included the basic curriculum with additional classes in cooking, carpentry, or labor skills instead of chemistry or higher-level mathematics. The public libraries were for whites only, thereby denying blacks access to books that could supplement what the schools were lacking. The white school boards established modified schedules with shortened school years for the colored schools to accommodate the needs of the white farmers.
The parents and the teachers worked tirelessly to provide a better education than was intended by the school boards. Along with the critical areas of reading, writing, math, and science, the schools took a special interest in history. Going beyond the tainted version found in books, they taught about Black Americans that made a difference and succeeded against the odds. Along with the Star Spangled Banner or the Pledge of Allegiance, the children sang the Negro National Anthem in the privacy of those buildings. The schools provided spiritual and cultural nourishment to foster pride within the black child.
In Silent Ties, Addie shares small tidbits with Missy about the difficulties she and children like her face in order to get an education. She seems almost shocked when she has to explain to Missy why it is so important. Addie knows what her future will be without an education, and she wants more. Missy appears ignorant about Addie’s school, the limited number of them in the South, and the various modes of transportation the students must use. However, she is well aware of the dangers if the white community finds out about Henry, his goals, and his influence on the other students.
Though the system tried to discourage learning, the black community deemed receiving an education very important. Education was the only way to independence, success, and respect. Hardships to the family were endured and there was great pressure on the children to do well. For more information and real life stories about this time period, I encourage you to read, Growing up Black . . . Twenty five African Americans reveal the trials and triumphs of their childhoods, edited by Jay David.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana