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Schooling Citizens

The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America

Schooling Citizens

The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America

While white residents of antebellum Boston and New Haven forcefully opposed the education of black residents, their counterparts in slaveholding Baltimore did little to resist the establishment of African American schools. Such discrepancies, Hilary Moss argues, suggest that white opposition to black education was not a foregone conclusion. Through the comparative lenses of these three cities, she shows why opposition erupted where it did across the United States during the same period that gave rise to public education.

As common schooling emerged in the 1830s, providing white children of all classes and ethnicities with the opportunity to become full-fledged citizens, it redefined citizenship as synonymous with whiteness. This link between school and American identity, Moss argues, increased white hostility to black education at the same time that it spurred African Americans to demand public schooling as a means of securing status as full and equal members of society. Shedding new light on the efforts of black Americans to learn independently in the face of white attempts to withhold opportunity, Schooling Citizens narrates a previously untold chapter in the thorny history of America’s educational inequality.

296 pages | 13 halftones, 2 maps, 4 line drawings, 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Black Studies

Education: Education--General Studies

History: American History, Urban History


“In Schooling Citizens Hilary Moss makes a splendid contribution to the history of race relations in the antebellum period. Case studies of episodes in New Haven, Baltimore, and Boston illuminate crucial relationships between schooling, citizenship, and race. The cases require careful analysis because they defy easy generalizations about the legacy of slavery or regional differences. The result is a nuanced view of the attitudes that swirled around white opposition to black education in these years; what conditions, in contrast, fostered black education; and what was at stake for African Americans. The case-study approach lends itself to a wedding of intellectual history with turbulent social confrontation and thus animates this important study.”

Carl Kaestle, Brown University

“I cannot think of any other book that is like Schooling Citizens, which makes an important contribution both to the historiography of African Americans and to the history of education in America. Well-written and well-argued, this book is an original contribution to scholarship.”

Shane White, University of Sydney

“Hilary Moss has made a major contribution to our understanding of the links between race, citizenship, and schooling in the antebellum era. Using a wide range of sources, from African American newspapers to employment records to census data, this clear and compelling account shows how black communities in both the North and the South pursued education as a key to citizenship, only to confront whites who viewed educated blacks as a threat to their own standing in the American body politic. Drawing readers into the daily life of three racially diverse and dynamic cities, Moss illuminates the shortcomings—and thus the deeper meanings—of the ‘common school crusade.’ Anyone who reads Schooling Citizens will be forced to grapple seriously with Moss’s provocative assertion that, for some, the promise of schooling may have been a fiction from the start.’”

Adam Nelson, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“The historical events described in Schooling Citizens foreshadow many subsequent struggles over education and race. Hilary J. Moss clearly demonstrates that adding race to conversations about the history of American education reveals how inequity was embedded into public schools from the start. This well-researched and well-written volume brings together untapped records and a careful analysis of previously underutilized archival materials to reveal the long struggle for black educational equality. It is an important work that forces a reconsideration of America’s commitment to universal education.”


“Hilary J. Moss offers an important corrective to the literature of the common schools by identifying race as a factor in their development. . . . With her detailed case examinations, Moss brings into focus the localized debates that contributed to the patchwork nature of American educational policy and provides awareness of both white and black activism surrounding integration that preceded Brown v. Board of Education by more than a century.”

Ellen L. Berg | Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

Schooling Citizens is a worthy contribution to the study of African- American struggles for access to education and schooling in the pre- Civil War era. . . . Hilary J. Moss asks us to ponder why Americans, both white and black, often believed in the democratic promise of schooling even though fair treatment and equal opportunity were so rarely realized.”

William J. Reese | Journal of Interdisciplinary History

‘There has been an immeasurable amount of research done on the educational history of African Americans, but until recently little attention has been paid to the education of African Americans during the antebellum era, particularly in the North. Hilary J. Moss’s evidentiary rich, meticulously researched, and masterfully written book is an important contribution on the subject. It illustrates the successes and challenges African Americans faced in primarily three locales—New Haven, Baltimore, and Boston. . . . Schooling Citizens should be read by anyone interested in nineteenth-century race relations, social history, or the educational history of African Americans. It seeks to address an inherent contradiction in the mythology of American education—that schools were accessible to all—and it demonstrates the complications race played in questions related to not only citizenship and schooling but also the meaning of democracy itself.”

Christopher M. Span | Journal of American History

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

Part 1: Education’s Inequity: New Haven, Connecticut
Chapter 1: The Emergence of White Opposition to African American Education
Chapter 2: Interracial Activism and African American Higher Education

Part 2: Education’s Enclave: Baltimore, Maryland
Chapter 3: Race, Labor, and Literacy in a Slaveholding City
Chapter 4: African American Educational Activism under the Shadow of Slavery

Part 3: Education’s Divide: Boston, Massachusetts
Chapter 5: Race, Space, and Educational Opportunity
Chapter 6: Common Schools, Revolutionary Memory, and the Crisis of Black Citizenship in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Conclusion: The Great Equalizer?

Appendix 1: Index of Occupational Categories
Appendix 2: Name, Occupation, and Address of Identifiable Petitioners Opposing the Proposal to Build a School for Black Children on Southack Street


History of Education Society: History of Education Society Outstanding Book Award

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