The RBS Blog
Education, access to it, achievement in it, the value of it, has been central to African American identity since our first ancestor walked onto this shore. Enslaved Africans came from a rich tradition of African scholarship, as exemplified by Timbuktu in Mali, where from the 13th century, scholars gathered to study math, astronomy and religion.
There were slaves who arrived in this country already literate, or who taught themselves to read in captivity. Jeremy, a literate, military man led fellow slaves in the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina in 1739. Olaudah Equiano, captured in Nigeria and enslaved in Virginia, learned to read, write and do arithmetic. In 1789, he wrote his autobiography and petitioned Parliament to end slavery in England. Omar ibn Said, an Islamic scholar who was born and educated in present day Senegal, was enslaved in the North Carolina in 1807. In 1831, he gained fame for writing, in Arabic, his autobiography and pleas for release. He continued his scholarly work during his life.
During slavery, African Americans continued to educate themselves, at the risk of punishment: in 1831 the North Carolina legislature decreed that a white person who taught a slave to read could be fined $100-$200 ($2,800 to $5,555 in 2015 values). Any person of color, free or enslaved, who taught a slave to read, was to be whipped no less than twenty and up to 39 lashes.
After the Civil War, African Americans continued their quest for education by donating their money and land to build their own schools, sending their ministers to the South to educate the Freedmen and their children, and learning on their own to read and write. My own family worked in this tradition: my great grandfather, a teacher in South Carolina, urged my grandparents to move to the North so that my mother and her siblings could have a better education. My husband’s great grandfather taught math in North Carolina. He has descendants in every generation who followed him into teaching.
To this day, African American parents follow their ancestors to provide the best education possible for our children. Yet statistics tell us that our children are lagging behind in academic achievement. Current events show us that our children endure substandard instruction and crumbling buildings. There are more college age black men in prison than in school. We can fix this if we are armed with knowledge.
As our ancestors knew, the best way to find freedom is to work for it on your own. Through this Blog I am going to do my part to obliterate the Preschool to Prison Pipeline and bring the Preschool to Ph.D. Pipeline back to the fore, where it belongs, and has been in the heart of every Black mother who teaches her child the ABCs.