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Education: The Key to Success

Education: The Key to Success

Principal Anna Jones (standing, left) leads a class at Douglass School in Kansas City, Missouri. Circa 1911. Photo: The Black Archives of Mid-America

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  • From their first steps onto Diasporic soil, Africans in America, now
    African Americans, have recognized the importance of obtaining an
    education. In most places in the United States, it was illegal to teach
    an enslaved person how to read or do arithmetic unless it benefitted the
    owner. With these skills, enslaved men (and some women, who learned
    clandestinely) could then help with market sales, measurements, and
    making goods. The number of Black people who were literate grew as
    they shared their knowledge with others in their community.

    Newly freed people shared three primary goals, according to historical
    records: to own their own land, to raise their families independent of
    the interference of others, and to have their children become literate.
    Being able to read and write meant that they could no longer be fooled
    into contracts that bound them to former owners or put their lives,
    homes, or livelihoods at risk. The lives of the people in this book
    reflect those goals. Many community leaders featured here earned their
    renown by putting the needs of their communities before their own
    personal desires. Most of them were well educated.

    Literacy was taught in churches, homes, on stoops, and in hush
    arbors. As the need for schools increased, Black people constructed
    places for formal learning. Elementary and secondary schools dotted
    the land and educated people across generations. Children, parents,
    and even grandparents learned to read. In this book the reader will
    find the names of many schools that were created to serve African
    Americans during a period when they were widely prohibited by law
    from attending schools that served white students. Many of the Kansas
    Citians featured here attended or taught at local all-Black high schools
    such as Lincoln or R.T. Coles (in Missouri) or Sumner (in Kansas).

    Higher education became increasingly important as Black people
    sought work as teachers, doctors, or scientists, among other
    professions. After the Civil War, private universities were founded
    to serve the African American community, and in 1890 the Second
    Morrill Act opened federally funded land-grant universities to Black
    students. The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines Historically
    Black Colleges and Universities as “any historically black college or
    university established prior to 1964 whose principal mission was, and
    is, the education of black Americans.” Famous men like Booker T.

    Washington and W. E. B. DuBois were in that first generation of Black
    people to attend HBCUs. Some of the men and women featured here
    studied at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, at Western
    University in Quindaro, Kansas, or at another HBCU.

    HBCUs mentioned in this book are listed to the right. Many schools’
    names have changed over the years; they are listed here as they are
    named today.

    Education, in the Black community, has always been seen as the key to
    a successful life.

    Carmaletta M. Williams, Ph.D.
    Executive Director, The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City

    Historically Black Colleges and
    Universities mentioned in this book
    Alabama A&M University (Huntsville, Ala.)
    Benedict College (Columbia, S.C.)
    Bishop College (Marshall, Tex., closed 1988)
    Clark Atlanta University (Ga.)
    Edward Waters College (Jacksonville, Fla.)
    Fisk University (Nashville, Tenn.)
    Hampton University (Va.)
    Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
    Huston-Tillotson College (Austin, Texas)
    Lincoln University (Jefferson City, Mo.)
    Lincoln University (Chester County, Penn.)
    Meharry Medical College (Nashville, Tenn.)
    Tuskegee University (Ala.)
    University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
    Western University (Quindaro, Kan., closed 1943)
    Wilberforce University (Ohio)
    Wiley College (Marshall, Texas)

    Lincoln University. Photo:
    Lincoln University. Photo:
    Lincoln High School, located at 11th and Campbell, ca. 1890. Native Sons of Kansas City Photograph Collection (K0528); The State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center - Kansas City.
    Lincoln High School, located at 11th and Campbell, ca. 1890. Native Sons of Kansas City Photograph Collection (K0528); The State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center – Kansas City.