The Duty of the South to Negro Education

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Today was one of the most productive writing days that I’ve had in quite some time.  It marks the first day of actual writing of what I’ve tentatively titled, Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory.  The primary sources that I have collected are incredibly rich, particularly those sources related to the memory of what were commonly called camp or body servants.  Here is an example from the turn of the twentieth century.  It’s an excerpt from a speech given by Dr. Walter B. Hill, who was the Chancellor of the University of Georgia.  It’s titled, “Negro Education in the South” and was presented at a conference on education policy that took place at the University of Virginia in 1903.  The speech opens with a few words speculating as to why the state’s black population had not already taken advantage of freedom and cheap transportation costs to leave the state for the North.  This is what follows:

The Confederate Negro.—Recently a group of Confederate veterans were recounting stories of the war. One of them told of a faithful body-servant who had accompanied him to the field. The negro was captured by the Federal scouts and was given a place as cook for the colonel of a Federal regiment, with salary attached. He ran away from this cosy berth and returned to his master—bringing with him a sack of supplies and a box of the colonel’s Havana cigars, on the plea that as he had been working for the colonel and the true owner had received no wages, something was due. Then another veteran in the group told a story. It was of a day of fierce battle, of an officer shot to pieces while leading his regiment in a desperate charge—the word passed back the line—and then a negro darting forward into the very crest of the battle and in the leaden hail of bullets bearing back the body of his wounded master, and afterwards nursing him into life. When these stories had been rehearsed with that fullness of detail which was characteristic of the art of story-telling as practiced by the Southern gentleman of the olden time, one of the group, as if seized by a sudden inspiration, said: “Gentlemen, if I live to get to the Confederate Reunion at New Orleans next month, I am going to propose a monument. It is to be of black marble and” (if I shock you, remember I am quoting the words of another) “to be erected in honor of the ‘Confederate nigger.’” (Applause.)

My object in this allusion has been to enable me to say that the duty of the South to negro education, whatever we may find that duty to be, is a duty to the children and grandchildren of the Confederate negro; and this phase ought to include not only the faithful body-servant in war, but the old black mammy and the Uncle Remus who were objects of so much affection in every Southern household; and indeed all the negroes in the South who cared for and protected the wives and children of the soldiers at the front and who—strangest anomaly in history—fed by their labor the armies that were fighting against their freedom.

The reference to the faithful slave was common enough by this time, but what I find interesting is the way it is was presented as a classroom lesson that had the potential to inculcate young black Georgians into a culture that promoted continued fidelity to the white population as their ancestors had done during the war.  I will have more to say about this at a later time, but for now here is one young black Georgian, who apparently didn’t get the message.  Take a second to imagine Chancellor Hill in the audience.

6 comments… add one

  • Laura McCarty Aug 5, 2011

    Kevin, can you share any more about the conference at UVA which was the source of this speech by Chancellor Hill? Who was his audience for the talk?

    I don’t know a whole lot about his biography, and what I’m going to say in my next paragraph may be risky, given that fact… Obviously he uses an example and some language that we wouldn’t use today to make a case for African American education.

    But actually his “strangest anomaly in history” line, in the last sentence you quoted, makes me wonder if he’s questioning the validity of the image of the loyal slave, even as he’s using it to appeal for the duty of the state to provide education to African Americans?

    So I’m not sure how he’d react to the comedian if he came back from the dead and sat in that audience…

    • Kevin Levin Aug 5, 2011

      Hi Laura,

      I should have provided the link, which you can read online: http://books.google.com/books?id=iqreAAAAMAAJ&dq=confederate%20%22body%20servant%22&pg=PP3#v=onepage&q&f=false

      His talk begins on the bottom of p. 206. I didn’t spend too much time with it so feel free to tell me that I’ve got it completely wrong.

      • Laura McCarty Aug 5, 2011

        Thanks for the link.

        It’s not a pretty speech, and after reading it, I can agree that Chancellor Hill was not ahead of his time or enlightened in terms of race relations.

        The speech is undergirded by some clear notions of hierarchy and white supremacy. But he does speak positively about Booker T. Washington and the ways in which some African Americans were doing a better job of educating their children than some poor whites were doing. It’s an example of what is so complicated about that Populist moment/”progressive era”.

        I don’t think the document will be that helpful to you for your work on Black Confederates, but it must have been cited in some works about the progressive era because there’s a lot more to unpack than I am doing here.

        Good luck with your work!

        • Kevin Levin Aug 5, 2011

          Laura,

          The document is interesting to me because it situates the concept of the loyal camp servant in the cultural lexicon that helped to maintain continued black compliance with the racial hierarchy. It’s also interesting simply because of where the subject is raised. Thanks.

          • Laura McCarty Aug 5, 2011

            I searched for some biography on Walter B. Hill in UGA channels, because I knew they have an award named for him for public service employees. Apparently he also wrote something in 1884 about “Negro Education” in Century Magazine.

            Here’s the link to the descriptive information from his papers in the Hargrett Special Collections Library:

            http://hmfa.libs.uga.edu/hmfa/view?docId=ead/ms2822-ead.xml

            Here’s what it says:

            Walter B. Hill collection

            Descriptive Summary
            Repository: Hargrett Manuscripts
            Creator: Hill, Walter B., (Walter Barnard), 1851-1905
            Title: Walter B. Hill collection
            Dates: 1851-1905
            Quantity: 0.5 Linear feet
            Identification: ms2822

            ——————————————————————————–
            Biographical/Historical Note
            “[Walter B. Hill was] born September 9, 1851, Talbotton, GA; died December 28, 1905, Athens, GA. A.B. (1870), M.A. (1871), B.L. (1871), University of Georgia. Hill practiced law in his father’s Macon firm from 1871-1899 when he accepted the President’s post at UGA. He was one of the founders of the Georgia Bar Association and was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Hill, a man of strong conviction and an ardent Prohibitionist, advocated collective bargaining for workers and defended blacks’ rights to education in a 1884 article in Century magazine. Because of his ties with Mercer and Emory, Hill was able to coopt those denominationalists who had formerly been at odds with University interests. Since he ably lobbied for increased state financial support for all aspects of education at the State University, agrarian interests were placated as well. The University’s budget was $40,000 ($8,000 in state funds) in 1899. Hill was able to encourage the state legislature to appropriate $151,000 between 1900 and 1905. His comprehensive plan for the modernization of the University included laying the foundations for the College of Agriculture and the College of Education, expanding the law curriculum from one to two years, establishing a School of Pharmacy (1903), and preparing for the School of Forestry (1906). His work with private donors was enhanced with the first visit of George Foster Peabody to the campus in 1902. He spoke nationally on the importance of federal funding for education. This schedule of dynamic work proved to be too much of a burden; Hill contracted pneumonia and died in December of 1905.” — “Walter B. Hill ” from the University of Georgia President’s Exhibit, http://www.libs.uga.edu/hargrett/pexhibit/presiden/wbhill.html (Accessed September 17, 2009)

            ——————————————————————————–

            • Kevin Levin Aug 5, 2011

              Thanks Laura. I really appreciate the information. This is what I love about blogging.

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