Historical Social Research

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Elise Kammerer: Uplift in Schools and the Church: Abolitionist Approaches to Free Black Education in Early National Philadelphia. [Abstract]

This contribution provides a case study of how Richard Allen’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church strove to become an autonomous provider of education to the free black community in the late 1790s and early 1800s as a way to avoid the direct influence of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS) and provide an education tailored to the needs of Philadelphia’s black population. By taking education into their own hands, free blacks sought to fight inequalities by dissociating themselves from the system of inequalities represented and supported by the PAS. Though members of the PAS and leaders of the free black community shared the goal of raising the socioeconomic status of blacks and reducing poverty through education, the education provided by the AME Church aimed to provide a practical, moral education tailored to the needs of a black community struggling to obtain work in competition with recent immigrant groups, and not one – such as offered by the PAS – which provided arbitrary measures of success in a white community which disregarded black educational achievements. This case study can be placed into the broader context of blacks’ ambitions of social equality with whites despite the structures of inequality – specifically regarding the lack of access to affordable, practical education – in the early republic in Philadelphia designed to keep them in a subjugated social position.

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