First Freed (Contd.)

AUTHOR PROFILE

 


Jamie Walker

"Their Chains Shall Fall Off" also positions the church as a vehicle through which the black Methodist community asserted their worth to both the white Methodist community and the political community at large. "Mt. Zion members," according to Jones, "with their constant presence and growing numbers, served to make the Methodist Church claim all the commandments of God, including equality for all God’s children." African-American Methodist Ministers fought for justice beyond the church community as well: they preached against slavery from the pulpit and organized charities and social service agencies in response to "deteriorating economic conditions." This commitment to community building and equality, according to Jones, "left a legacy of survival" demonstrating to future generations "their love of God and reverence toward humanity."

In Chapter 5, "From Emancipation to Citizenship: Blacks in Washington, D.C., 1862-1887," Paul Phillips Cooke examines a contradiction in two post-emancipation laws and reveals the savvy and self-sufficiency of the African-American community. In 1873, two laws passed by the District of Columbia Legislative Assembly presented contrasting ideas regarding segregation in D.C. The first, a civil rights law, contained clauses explicitly barring racial segregation. The normal school established by the second law, contains no such clause. Neither, however, did it mandate the separation of the races. Cooke looks at the assumptions that underlay the second piece of legislation and asks if the African-American community wanted a desegregated school system.

Cooke’s inquiry reveals a sophisticated, self-sufficient community. According to Cooke, "no strong argument can be made that Washington’s blacks were in favor of integrated public schools." More important than desegregated schools, was that schools for black children existed and that schools training teachers, what were called "normal" schools, to teach those children existed. It was also important that black men and women have "a measure of control of the black schools." The African-American community was self-sufficient enough to render public, desegregated schools unnecessary. In 1860 Myrilla Miner opened the Miner School for Colored Girls which graduated the "first teacher in the first school for colored children in 1864" and the Howard University Normal Department began preparing students to teach in blacks schools in the 1870s.

The beauty of this rich and exciting collection is its use of rare primary source materials. Source materials include the diary of a slave-turned-freedman "employed in a major research and manufacturing complex" in D.C., the "privately held church records" of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, and the African-American newspaper that preceded the Freeman Journal, previously considered the first African-American newspaper in the U.S. Regina T. Akers, Ida E. Jones, Richlyn F. Goddard, David Taft Terry, Paul Phillips Cooke, Craig A. Schiffert and Carol A. Beane combine accessible writing and insightful historical analysis and bring to life a vibrant community committed to autonomy and self-sufficiency. BBN

 


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