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Proceedings of the Colored National Labor convention : held in Washington, D.C., on December 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th, 1869.

1869-WASHGINGTON DC-Colored national Labor Convention 28.pdf

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28

In the close neighborhood of the very spot where the first cargo of slaves had been disembarked stands the little brown building that served as the first school-house for the freedmen. . Securely it nestled under the guns of Fortress Monroe, with the military power of the nation pledged for its maintenance. Six months had not yet elapsed after the clouds of war had gathered, when this earliest sunbeam of a dawning civilization burst through to relieve their gloom. On the 17th day of September. 1861, this school was opened. The honor of its establishment is due to the American Missionary Association, which had labored, even before the war, for the educational advancement of colored people in Kentucky and elsewhere, and whose keen-eyed philanthropy eagerly caught sight of this "opening of the prison-house to those who were bound." Other schools were soon afterwards opened by this Association at Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.

With the advance of the Union fleets and armies, the friends of humanity kept steady pace. In the month of November, 1861, the Port Royal islands were captured, and, in less than three months after, schools were opened at Beaufort and Hilton Head, South Carolina. The destitution, upon which these schools cast the first cheering ray, was, indeed, forlorn. All of the whites had fled from these islands, leaving there about eight thousand negroes steeped in ignorance and want. Their deplorable condition appealed strongly to the officers of the Government for relief, and did not appeal in vain. At this instigation of General W.T. Sherman and Commodore Dupont, public meetings were held at once in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, which resulted in the formation of the Freedman's Aid Societies, viz : the Boston Educational Commission, the Freedmen's Relief Association, and the Port Royal Relief Commission. All of these societies straightway sent out teachers, whose transportation and boarding were furnished by the Government, and in the month of June, 1862, eighty-six persons were reported in the field.

The year 1863 was ushered in by the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln, which conferred legal freedom upon all the slaves of the nation except those of certain specified localities, and actual freedom upon all such as might come within the lines of the national armies. This consequent enlargement of the area of philanthropic labor was followed by a corresponding increase in the number of earnest and efficient laborers. Other societies similar to those already mentioned, were formed at Chicago and Cincinnati in 1863. Hundreds of ladies, tenderly nurtured and refined by all the accomplishments of modern culture, hastened to this field now whitening for the harvest, and braving privations and the vicissitudes of war eagerly enrolled themselves among the teachers of the freedmen. Words would fail to depict the noble devotion of self-sacrifice of those ladies as they carried on their philanthropic labors during the remaining years of the war. With a courage worthy of comparison with that of their brothers on the tented field, they remained at their posts, braving all the perils of their unwonted situation.

The year 1865 was marked by the fall of Richmond, and the close of the rebellion. With the opportunities thus extended, schools were opened at every feasible point. The aid of the Government, too, was secured for their maintenance. On the 3d of March of that year, the Freedman's Bureau was created by act of Congress, and through the kind ordering of an all-wise Providence, Major General O. O. Howard, that gallant Christian soldier, was, in the following month of May, assigned to duty as its Commissioner. To the several benevolent agencies already mentioned, he tendered his earnest co-operation. He gave them efficient aid, by turning over for school purposes, disused government buildings, and those seized from disloyal owners ; by affording transportation for teachers, books, and school furniture, and by assigning quarters and rations to all engaged in the work of instruction, at the same time that protection was given to them through the department commanders. By his direction, too, the "Refugees and Freedmen's Fund" was used to assist in the maintenance of schools supported in part by the freedmen themselves ; and in each State superintendents of schools were appointed to see to the faithful execution of his plans and purposes. Thus, under the beneficent administration of General Howard, the Freedmen's Bureau has been, in the matter of education, as in many other respects, of efficient service to the freedmen, and has helped to prepare them for a right exercise of the franchises with which they are now invested as citizens. To bring about this result, too, the various religious dominations of the country have all labored to a greater or less extent with commendable zeal. As a consequence of the several influences at work, the schools at the South have increased in number, and have prospered greatly every year since the close of the rebellion. True, they have had to

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