Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

May 14, 1904

Guest post by Shelby Worth, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

Booker T. Washington
, a very influential African-American educator who worked at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, wrote this editorial in The Appeal on May 14, 1904. He was from the last generation of American-born slaves. After the abolition of slavery in the United States, Washington became an important leader for former slaves and their families. In this article, he was addressing the African-American public and calling them to step up and take a stand for improved public schooling for their children. Washington called out that in the former slave states, nearly 90 percent of school-aged children did not attend school for at least six months of the year. He declared that if those statistics continued, African Americans would continue to be considered an illiterate and ignorant group of people. (Click to view full page via Library of Congress.)

In his text, “The Afro-American and the Public Schools,” I found it very interesting that he was supporting the state throughout this article and was calling on the people to change, stating that they were the ones who needed to step up and take on their civil duty of paying taxes to support the public school system. It seems that many black people did not always support the state government because so many laws were unfavorable to them. Washington, on the other hand, made no mention of the state or big government being at fault when it came to public schooling. Although I knew that many African Americans did not get proper schooling, I did not realize that it was as high as 90 percent of children. Not only were very few African Americans attending school, but those who were may have only been going for around sixty to seventy days a year, which is hardly enough to learn what they needed.

This article was very fitting and informational for me. Washington thought that there were four steps people needed to take to improve the public school system for their children and for a better future. They included, going before the public school authorities, making sure that all taxes that went into the school fund were paid, raising private tax rates until the school term could be extended to eight months, and improving the public schoolhouses. He thought that with these four steps, the people could improve the public school system and grow tremendously as a whole. He believed that in order for them to progress in industry, business, college, morality, and religion, they needed an improved public school system. Booker T. Washington said that if they weren’t able to achieving these four things, they would be failing their youth during the most important time of their lives.

Before this, I had never read through any black newspapers. I found doing the research for this to be very interesting and intriguing. I decided on this article over many others published on May 14 because it was very moving to me with its call to African Americans to pull together and make a difference that would change the future for their children.

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