1860s: Freedom at Last | 1870s: Representation | 1880s: Repression | 1890s: End of an Era | The Biographies | Conclusions


The 1870s: Education

Class at Texas State Normal School for Negroes The caption on this photo reads, "Junior Class," and is identified as "Texas Normal School for Negroes." Probably taken at Prairie View Normal Institute (now Prairie View A&M University), date unknown. A normal school trained teachers and provided the rough equivalent of today's high schools. Prairie View was founded in 1879. Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.


Before the Civil War, many Southern states prohibited the teaching of slaves. Although many slave owners and overseers ignored the prohibition and taught their slaves to read, write, and do basic math, organized schooling for African Americans was rare before 1865. Less than two years after Emancipation, however, education for newly freed slaves was actively promoted and supported by the Freedman's Bureau all over the South.

Many of the 52 African-American politicians who served Texas before 1900 were profound believers in the development of free public schools for all Texans, both white and African American. In 1871, Senator Gaines supported the Free School Bill that helped finance an agricultural and mechanical college (now Texas A&M University), the first publicly supported state institution of higher education. Representative Holland became known as the Father of Prairie View A & M University after he, with Senator Burton's support, introduced a bill that became law in April 1876, to convert Alta Vista Institute first into Alta Vista Agricultural College and a year later into Prairie View Normal College (a school for teachers). Representative Beck worked in the 1880s to ensure Prairie View's funding when it was threatened by the state comptroller. Representatives Allen and Mitchell supported a bill to incorporate the Gregory Institute, a private school for African Americans in Houston. Representative Roberts worked to develop Wiley College, the first college-level school for African Americans west of the Mississippi River.

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Page last modified: April 22, 2015