By Helen W. Ludlow.
|Hampton Institute in 1873|
The ten years that separate us from the Proclamation of Emancipation have wrought some natural but curious changes in public sentiment both North and South. The nation that was born in a day has shown no signs of possessing an ephemeral nature. It does not seem to be obligingly melting away before the consuming presence of a superior race, nor has it taken itself en masse to Liberia out of our way. Its existence and its continuance seem to be undoubted facts, and it is wonderful how we have become hardened to them. We do not trouble ourselves much more as to what we shall do with our prize elephant. That unblessed word, "miscegenation," has ceased to frighten us. We do not anticipate a Sabine raid from Dixie's land, or suspect the daughter of our people of Desdemona's leanings.
One of the most important questions that the years have settled is that of negro education. The best thinkers of the North and South, however distant their stand-points, are no longer apart in the conclusion that it is of vital importance to the nation. This conviction is shown at the South by the action taken by most of the reconstructed States in embodying some provision for the negroes in their free-school system, and quite as remarkably by the increasing favor, or tolerance, to say the least, extended to the schools and colleges for freedmen established in them by Northern benevolence. In other directions there may be no great change. However the negro may be feared as a political power, or made the tool of demagogues of both parties - and this is his greatest danger - most of our Southern friends would doubtless sympathize with the constituent of a certain honorable gentleman in the Virginia Legislature who thus feelingly set forth the case:
"It ain't the Republican party I object to,” says he. “I haiu't no objection to the Republican party,” says he; “but,” says he, “it's the niggers”; says he – “it's the NIGGERS!"
But, however the South may object to the negro as a companion at the polls, she knows she must call him to her side in the cotton fields. She is awakening more and more to an appreciation of her need of skilled labor to develop her neglected resources, and to the fact that she can look for it only to the emancipated race.
At a meeting of the National Agricultural Convention, held during the past year in Washington, the committee reported as follows: "Two evils that have thrown a heavy shadow upon our agricultural advance have been, first, the painful slowness and uncertainty of progress, and second, the enormous waste of misdirected energy."
|Assembly Room at Hampton|
As a result of this view, resolutions were adopted advising the establishment of agricultural schools and colleges upon the following principles: first, that while no branch of learning should be neglected, they should be distinctively agricultural in their government and teaching; second, that actual manual labor should be practiced and taught; third, that females as well as males should be admitted as pupils.
It is a curious fact that the only institution south of the national capital which meets these demands, and offers to destitute youth an opportunity to earn at once a solid English education and a valuable industrial training, is a college for negroes. The Normal and Agricultural Institute of Hampton, Virginia, and its rapid growth and success, prove the adaptation of its system to the public needs.
Another demand of the South, which may be expected to continue and increase for some time, is that of colored teachers for its colored schools. And these two demands, for teachers and laborers, are not two - as they would be at the North - but one. It is true with the colored teacher, as with the missionary to Africa, that the more comprehensive and practical his training, the better. He is called upon not only to teach in the school-house, but in the cabin; to advise the people how to build better houses, and raise better crops, and be better citizens. He is to be a little center of civilization among them, and help, in his proper degree, to elevate his race by the power of his own life. His education should not unfit him to dwell among them; a poor man himself, he should be able at any time to enter the workshop or the fields, and make up the deficiencies of his often ill-paid salary.
However this combination plan of education may be finally regarded under other social conditions, the case is settled for the South by its necessities; as is also the further question, Shall the manual-labor system be simply educational, or attempt to be self-supporting. While taking ground that its primary object should be a thorough training for future usefulness and the creation of a respect for labor, and therefore requiring it of all her students, Hampton provides for that large class of them who are destitute of money the means of paying their own way, in whole or in part, by their own work in the printing-office, the workshop, the industrial room, or the farm. Self-help is thought to be a much healthier principle of growth for the student and the school than entire dependence upon charity.
|Base Ball Club at Hampton|
The practical working of this principle has been attended by a remarkable degree of success. For the first three years, at the end of which the school numbered eighty-six, the young men were boarded, lodged, and clothed mainly from the avails of their own labor. Increase in numbers makes the supply of profitable labor to all more difficult; but new industries have been added, and the last year was most encouraging financially. In March, 1872, the General Assembly of Virginia passed an act appropriating one-third of the interest accruing from the proceeds of the State college land scrip to this institution as an endowment of its agricultural and mechanical departments. This gift, from which it will secure five percent on $95,000, will enable it to extend the opportunities it alone of all colleges for freedmen offers of industrial training and self-help.
These distinguishing characteristics give Hampton a certain claim upon the consideration of those who feel an interest in freedmen's schools, and may make some description of it welcome in the North, where the question of combining manual labor with mental training is receiving so much careful thought.
The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute stands upon Hampton River, which is nothing, after all, but a creek - one of those, it may be, which the adventurous Captain John Smith used to explore for a northwest passage to India. Two miles below, Fortress Monroe frowns at the entrance of the quiet harbor that was once the scene of the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac. It is hidden from sight by the dome of the National Military Asylum for Veterans, once a flourishing seminary for the daughters of the first families of Virginia. Half a mile above sits, in the mud, all that is left of the once-fashionable little watering-place of Hampton, that Magruder burned, you remember, to satisfy his taste for the dramatic - it just occurs to me that a Hampton "Preparatory's" definition of the word is "something relating to a dram." Though two-thirds of the population are colored, and the desolated hearths of the chivalry are chiefly represented by huge misshapen chimney stacks, each with a negro's cabin crouching against it for warmth, a ghost of aristocracy still lingers about the little place, rustles on Sundays through the aisles of St. John's Church, whose ancient walls withstood the flames, and hovers harmlessly about the patrician names in its quiet graveyard. It is careful never to invade the Normal School grounds, but it must have haunted long and lovingly a lonely house opposite their gate, which kept its front blinds tightly closed for four years, to shut out the sight of a Yankee school for niggers. But even this is yielding to the progress of the age, and letting in the light, for I have seen its blinds turned.
|Girl's Industrial Room|
One who has a fondness for the curious coincidences in which history at times indulges must enjoy the poetic justice that has set a college for freedmen on the very shores where the first ship load of slaves ever brought to America was landed, and the curse introduced which, after working for two centuries, covered the land with blood. Here, too, the bondmen were first practically set free, when Butler opened his heaviest gun on the rebellion, and cut the Gordian knot of slavery with a single word. Here the "contrabands" flocked till ten thousand of them were gathered under the shelter of the old flag. Here they knelt, upon the shore to pray for the victory of the little Monitor, on which their fate hung. Here the first freedmen's schools were established by the American Missionary Association.
The Normal and Agricultural Institute is a natural outgrowth of these earliest efforts. In 1867 General S. C. Armstrong, a young man who had distinguished himself in the battles of the Peninsula at the head of the Ninth United States colored troops, was stationed at Hampton as superintendent of a department of the Freedmen's Bureau. His experience during and after the war among the loyal people he had led gave him a quick sense of their needs. The thronging thousands that had come up out of bondage at the first call of liberty and occupied the land were too many for the primary mission schools to manage. The sufferings and vices incident to such numbers were prevalent, and there was danger that the freedman would slip back into the inert contentment with ignorance that belongs to slavery, and the impetus of his first hunger and thirst after knowledge be lost. Education of the most practical kind was the only lever that could raise these masses to the plane to which they were called, and the very point occupied by the Freedman's Bureau station seemed the specially appointed fulcrum for it, lying directly in the focus of the swarming camps, and of a system of waters reaching their farthest limits, and commanding easy access to the North by the coast.
By his earnest representation of these facts General Armstrong induced the American Missionary Association to buy the "Wood Farm," which was the bureau station, for the establishment of a normal and agricultural school. The position of its superintendent was given, entirely unsought, to himself, and he has been ever since its inspirer and prime mover. As far as any great work of the kind can be ascribed to one man's agency, this is the result of his enthusiasm and foresight and almost unlimited executive abilities.
No models existed at the North or South for an institution of the kind. It has had to be developed by the necessities of the people, but he was assisted in forming his plans by his acquaintance with the manual-labor schools of the Sandwich Islands, founded forty years ago for the elevation of another race by our earliest missionaries, among whom was his father, the late Rev. Dr. Armstrong, also for many years Minister of Public Instruction at the Islands. Rev. Dr. Dwight Baldwin, another of these veteran missionaries, writes in a letter to General Armstrong:
"The Lahainaluna School has been a great light in the Sandwich Islands for forty years - a mighty power to aid us in enlightening and Christianizing the Hawaiian race. It has always been a manual-labor school. This arose partly from necessity; but a second reason was that all our plans for elevating this people were laid from the beginning to give them not only learning, but also intelligent appreciation of their duties as men and citizens, and to prepare them in every way for a higher civilization. The plan pursued here in this respect is the same, I believe, essentially, as you have pursued at the Hampton Institute. It is the plan dictated by nature and reason, and if you pursue it thoroughly and wisely it will make your institute a speedy blessing to all the freedmen of the South."
In June, 1870, the institute was incorporated by act of the General Assembly, a board of trustees created, including men of character and influence both of the North and South. And to this board the American Missionary Association deeded the entire property of the school.
|Lion and John Solomon|
The Wood Farm purchase consisted of one hundred and twenty-five acres of good land, eighty of which are now under cultivation. The school buildings stand on the shore of Hampton River. The old Wood mansion, a roomy brick building, with a generous Southern veranda, is shared by the superintendent's family and the teachers. The girls' quarters are the buildings on the left - the long, low, wooden barracks, with their picturesque belfry, and the brick house at the end. The common dining-room is also in the barracks, and the school kitchen, presided over by a coal-black genius, Uncle Tom, as much a character in his way as his famous namesake, though in less danger of translation, to judge from his own account of himself. He insists upon declaring himself an infidel, and has a superior way of asserting the opinion that "Any fin's good nuff for dem niggers," taking much pride all the while in proving himself better than his principles, and in keeping their table piled with steamy mountains of corn-bread, that looks good enough for anybody. He has a quick, bright eye, and decidedly a Roman profile, and as he stands at the kneading trough, with his paper cap on his little grizzled head, and the charcoal shadows of his handsome little face startlingly intensified by some comically high lights of flour, he makes a picturesque figure which I should have liked to add to the illustrations of this article, but no persuasions could induce him to have his picture taken. He seemed to have some strange superstitious dread of the operation, and after chasing him into the depths of a dark cellar, whence he was brought with suspicions of tear tracks on his powdered cheeks, our artist was obliged to give up his persecutions.
"You knows, missis, I'd jess do any fin for de general, but I can't have no pictur' took. Loisa she's wanted my pictur' afore now, but I done tell her no. I doesn't prove ob ‘pictur's. I don't want to look at no pictur's. Uncle Tom will die jess as he an' be forgot. Don't want no pictur' took.
So we will have to let him pass into his coveted oblivion.
On the other side of the "Teachers' Home," about three hundred yards from it, stands the new Academy Hall, completed in 1870 by the assistance chiefly of the Freedmen's Bureau, whose noble-hearted president, General 0. 0. Howard has always been a friend to the institution. It is a handsome, three-story building in the form of a Greek cross, one hundred and ten by eighty-five feet, built of brick made on the farm, and by the labor, in part, of the students. The first two stories are devoted to school-rooms and offices, and the third to the young men's dormitory. The printing-office is also in this building.
Five minutes' walk from here, over the cultivated part of the farm, brings us to the manager's house and the other farm buildings, some of which are only the temporary substitutes for a fine barn destroyed a year ago by lightning. We pass on the way to them a large peach orchard and three acres of a feathery asparagus forest. Beyond the farm buildings the land sweeps round the United States Cemetery, where six thousand lie whose blood paid part of the great price of freedom. The handsome granite monument to the soldiers is in full sight from the institute, which is itself a nobler monument to their work. The little Bethel Chapel in the cemetery is filled every Sunday by the scholars and teachers, with a few loyal people from the village, and its pastor is the chaplain of the institute, a man specially fitted for his position by the simple, practical, and earnest character of his words and his life. While this school is entirely un-sectarian in its character, it is thoroughly Christian in the instructions of the pulpit and the Sunday-school, and, what is still more, in the atmosphere of its daily life.
Still beyond the cemetery is the Butler School-house, a large wooden building where one of the earliest of the freedmen's schools was established. The institute gives the use of it to the town for a free school, reserving the nomination of the teacher. This year one of the normal school graduates holds sway over the two hundred funny little specimens of the inevitably rising race, many of whom, no doubt, have aspirations to the big school-house "over at the missionary," as they say. I listened to some creditable reading here - the colored students have strong elements of fine readers in their rich, sympathetic voices and their love of picturesque expression - and heard of an amusing instance of their habit of interpreting words by the sound. The word "halloo" is thus darkly suggestive to them. It is universally regarded as a "swear word," and a visitor to the Butler chancing to use it, intending a cheerful salutation, was astounded to see one of his audience roll off his seat in fits of laughter, screaming with impish delight, " Hi, hi, hi - Massa Knox done cuss! Massa Knox done cuss!"
|Negro cabin at Hampton|
The Butler School often serves as a preparatory to the normal, though most of the normal scholars are boarders. Out of the two hundred and thirteen of its present number only twenty-five are day scholars. This peculiarity makes its influence much more positive and permanent than if it had a larger but more fluctuating roll. The great majority of those who pass through its Junior class are graduated from its Senior.
Of the industries of Hampton the most important is, of course, the farm. This is cultivated entirely by the boys, under the direction of the farm manager, who exhibits much skill in keeping his large corps of laborers busy and in order. There is a supply of "hands" here which would delight the heart of a Northern farmer. For convenience in providing work, and to interfere as little as possible with recitations, the students are divided into five squads, which are in rotation assigned one day in each week for farm labor. All the boys also work on every Saturday forenoon. Each student has, therefore, a day and a half every week of labor on the farm, for which he is allowed from seven to ten cents an hour, or from one dollar to a dollar and a half per week. If he wishes, as some do, he can work all of Saturday, and add to his gains.
Tuition and the use of public buildings are made free to all, being provided for by the institution through donations and scholarships of seventy dollars a year, or two hundred and ten for the whole course. Each contributor of a scholarship is put into direct communication with the student he provides for, and the correspondence thus established often becomes mutually interesting and profitable.
A specimen of these letters by one of the Hampton boys may interest some of the million readers of the Monthly. It is unaltered from the original.
"Mrs. — :
"DEAR MADAM, — You have asked me to send you some account of my life.
"I was born a slave in 1853. Though quite young, I had some idea of the horrors of slavery. My mother, with the assistance of my father, hired her time, and paid for it by washing clothes. Her children being too young for service were allowed to stay with her. It would be just to say that these advantages were obtained from a family through whose veins flowed Quaker blood - a race of people who always act with clemency. These privileges were seldom had.
|Printing Office at Hampton|
"I left my mother in 1860 to live with the man who owned me. Then I found the sting of slavery. Though I had seen but a few years, yet I had learned to value the blessings of freedom, and to appreciate their worth. Often did I ask my mother to explain to me how it was that I should be considered property, but she did not give me any satisfaction, and told me not to talk that way; it was not safe. I might say my master did not treat me severe, when I view the condition of others and make a comparison; but when I view the injustice of being held as a slave, I must say I was dealt with in a manner discreditable to a civilized and intelligent people. I was not more than seven years of age and quite small, yet the work required of me was inconsistent for a boy of my size, and I was often severely whipped because I did not perform the work assigned to me that I was unable to do. For nearly two years I tasted the bitterness of slavery, hoping for the dawn of a brighter day when I would enjoy the rights of a freeman. I have been whipped, half fed, and overworked until death would have been welcome, yet my treatment was not without variation, and at times was executed with leniency.
"During my slave life I had a desire to learn to read, but did not have any one to teach me; but unexpectedly, and against the prevailing sentiment of the South, the youngest servants owned by my master were on Sunday evenings taken into his sitting-room, and there we would spend the afternoon in trying to learn the alphabet, assisted at times by him. I had an eager desire to learn, and bought myself a large book containing painted letters and pictures. This book I obtained from my so-called master's store, and in it I learned over half of my letters. I procured this book with a silver dime.
"Being familiar with the fact that war was fast approaching, I was cheered by the hope I would be able to read at no distant day. My aunt, who could read well enough to read newspapers whenever she could get one, would inform us of the state of the country. She could not obtain one often, our owners knowing she could read.
"Well do I remember when the news was echoed from one end of the town to the other - the Yankees are coming. They met a warm reception from the slaves. I had the privilege of seeing the first ones who came to our town in uniform. I often visited the soldiers, who were very kind to me. My uncle with twelve others ran the blockade and boarded a man-of-war. This action created a great sensation, as they were the first who had left their masters. Soon after others began to leave, until at last few families had any one left to perform the work. My aunt, who left before we did, came back after her daughter, but instead of getting her she was tied and whipped, but was taken down by some soldiers. Soon after this we all left. My mother being dead, I lived with my grandfather.
"In the early part of 1863 I went to a school taught by a colored man. The studies taught were limited to reading and spelling. It seemed to me I would never learn to put letters together; and when I was put into words of two letters, I was almost ready to give up studying. I studied hard, and persevered till I could spell words of two syllables, when the school was given to an old man who was a soldier, who had been a teacher in the North, and was fully qualified for the position. The days I spent under him as a scholar are among the brightest of my life. After he closed his school the American Missionary Association sent teachers south. They all took an interest in me, especially one who would spend whole afternoons with me on my lessons. I made greater progress under her than under all the rest of my teachers, and loved her better.
"After having been sent to school all this time by my father, and attained an age in which I could be of some benefit to him, I thought it no more than right that I should do something. I began to teach school about fifteen miles from home. Here I found difficulties that almost made me give up. I was placed among an ignorant people who I were to teach, and make some attempt, though small, to elevate; while I had the hatred of the white people, whom I had reason to dread, because not many miles from where I was teaching a preceptor had been hung for instructing his own race. When I went home on Saturday I had to walk fifteen miles, and get back Monday to open school at nine o'clock. I continued my school for four months. I think I gave satisfaction, because they wanted me to teach again; but I took one nearer home, only five miles off to this I walked every morning, teaching six hours. I taught two sessions here, and enjoyed it very much, though it required considerable patience. In this way I helped my father to build a house, and sent my sister to the Hampton Normal School.
"In the place I came from the colored people were more intelligent than the white people, who are very degraded and wicked. The colored people act very silly in worshiping God, and seem to think if one don't halloo and shout at the top of their voice, you are not a Christian. I have visited the North, and seen its energetic and enterprising people encircled in prosperity and surrounded with wealth, with which they have been able to do so much to alleviate the ignorance of the once poor and degraded slave.
"I am now in the middle class of the Hampton Normal School, where I trust to make myself a good and useful man, and become great in that from which true greatness only is derived."
|Reading Room at Hampton|
The charge for personal expenses - board, washing, lights, etc. - is ten dollars a month, and as this would not be met by the regular weekly labor, every student is liable to be called upon at any time during the term, as the exigencies of the farm may require, for any number of days not exceeding twelve. And they have the further opportunity to pay off all arrears by labor during the summer vacation. About forty are expected to remain this year. Usually not more than half of the personal expenses is paid by labor, the opportunity being left for the most destitute.
The farm is steadily improving in productiveness. It has thirty-six acres of corn, sixteen acres of oats, and ten of clover, and a plantation of over two thousand fruit trees - peach, pear, cherry, plum, and quince - in a thriving condition. Three acres of asparagus and a hundred and fifty Concord grapevines have been set out in the past year. Temporary barns and a blacksmith's shop have been built. The market-wagon runs daily with milk and vegetables, and the meat wagon three times a week, to Hampton and Old Point Comfort. Peaches, potatoes, and cabbages are shipped to Baltimore and the North with very satisfactory returns, and the boarding department is principally supplied from the farm. Its report for the past year shows a gain of receipts over outlays more than sufficient to cover the salary of the manager. Student labor costs about one-fourth more than that of hired men, because work is sometimes given to them at a disadvantage to enable them to earn their expenses.
More attention than ever has been paid to stock this year, and at the Agricultural Fair of Virginia and North Carolina, held in Norfolk last October, the Hampton Institute took the first prizes for the best Ayrshire and Alderney bulls, the best heifer calf, and the best stallion over four years old. This prize stallion, a powerfully built French Canadian, with massive mane and sweeping tail, is the general's favorite saddle-horse, and the admiration of the country people, black and white, who throng into Hampton on market-days in their characteristic turnouts, a two-wheeled cart, drawn by a miserable little steer, guided by ropes tied to his horns, or a fancy matched team of a cow and a mule.
A special understanding exists between Lion and John Solomon, his groom, who also has a claim to be included in the prize list of the farm.
"This man and brother," said the general, as we drove over the very rough road from Old Point on the frosty moonlight morning of my introduction to Hampton, "is my highest-priced hand. How much are you worth, Solomon!"
"Well, Sah, dey use' to say I'd fotch all o' tree t'ousan' dollar," said John, with chuckle.
"Yes, that's what his old master held him at; but I wouldn't take that for him."
"I shall run him off North the first chance I get," I boldly declared.
"Oh, you needn't bring any of your abolition talk down here; it, won't go down," replied the general, solemnly, to the great delight of the appreciative man and brother. John Solomon does not boast much of his extraction from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which is regarded as a sort of Nazareth in the Old Dominion. One old darky, who was asked his age, replied, "I's thirty year old, massa."
"Nonsense; you're twice as old as that."
"Well, massa, look yere; I did live twenty year on de Eastern Sho', but I hope de Lord ain't gwine to count dat against me!"
"Why haven't you been at school here, Solomon!" I asked.
"I'd 'a liked mighty well to go, madam; but I hab a wife a-dependin' on me, you see."
|Walls of St. John's Church|
How much Mrs. Solomon feels her dependence is questionable. In a conjugal quarrel, during which John had to go to Norfolk for the general, she revenged herself while he was absent by taking down the chimney against which their little cabin leaned. Not one brick did she leave upon another, sacrificing her dinner-pot to her boiling indignation. On his return the wise Solomon meekly rebuilt it.
Next to the farm the most prominent industry of Hampton is the printing-office, opened in November, 1871. The report of this office after the first eight months of its operation showed that it had more than paid expenses, besides giving the students employed in it the opportunity of learning a useful trade. One of them has acquired sufficient knowledge of the business to pay his way in school by his work in the office out of school-hours. The students are employed in both typesetting and press-work, and with the exception of one boy and, for a short time during the sickness of the foreman and extra press of work, one man, no outside help has been employed.
The first number of the Southern Workman, an illustrated monthly paper, edited by officers of the school, and devoted to the industrial classes of the South, was issued January 1,1872. It began its second year with a monthly circulation of fifteen hundred, and a paid-up subscription list of over eleven hundred. Over three-quarters of its issue goes to the freedmen. Avoiding politics, it gives them intelligence concerning their own race and the outside world, interesting correspondence from teachers, and practical articles upon science, agriculture, housekeeping, and education. It is well printed on good paper, and is supplied with first-class illustrations by Northern friends, among whom are the publishers of the Nursery, the Christian Weekly, Every Saturday, and Harper's Magazine.
As much as this has been accomplished with only two very small and inferior hand-presses, upon which the printing could be done only by a slow process, and at a great disadvantage, seriously limiting the profits and the possibilities of the printing-office, which might well be a source of actual revenue to the school, as there is no other nearer than Norfolk. This result seems now to be assured by the munificent gift from Messrs. Hoe and Co. of one of their best cylinder presses, valued at $2250, which they have just presented to the school, in the interests of Southern education.
Besides these industries of Hampton, there is the carpenter's shop, which gives constant employment to four good student workmen, and the shoe shop, in which three of them do all the repairing for the school. There is also a mason and a tinsmith among them, who have occasional work at their trades.
The industrial room for the girls shows as good a record as any of the departments. The report of its fourth session, of 1871-72, gives a balance to the credit of the institution of $126. The department has been conducted on the proceeds of sales, with the exception of sixty-five dollars, donations. Thirty-one young women had been employed, of whom twenty-six had been taught the use of one or more of the four different sewing-machines in use. Besides the manufactures for sale in market, six hundred and forty-three articles, which the students could obtain in no other way, have been made and issued to them at low prices on long credit. The girls also find employment in the kitchen and laundry, doing all their own washing and that of the boys.
All the students are required to keep their own accounts with the school, and present them regularly to be compared with the treasurer's. The various reports will be largely increased, of course, in the present year, as the school has nearly doubled since the close of the last term. The managers of all the departments testify to the uniform faithfulness and progress of the students, proving that the manual-labor system is a success not only financially, but in its ultimate object - the elevation of the people.
|Winter quarters in front of Hampton|
Coming now to their Academic Hall, we find the two hundred and thirteen young men and women gathered in a large and handsome assembly-room, well lighted, and furnished as comfortably with desks and blackboards as any Northern school-room. The ceiling is beautifully inlaid with a mosaic of the Southern yellow pine, stained and in its natural color, and the walls are wainscoted with the same. Opposite this, and finished in the same way, is the library and reading-room, the great windows around two sides of it commanding magnificent views of Hampton Roads and the distant blue Chesapeake. Its walls are hung with chromes and engravings, and several of Rogers's groups add to its attractiveness. The table is covered with the very best periodical literature of the day, sent in exchange to the Southern Workman, or contributed by the generosity of Northern and Southern publishers. The students have free access to this room out of school-hours. The library is small, but is about to be increased somewhat by a generous donation. The choice of books drawn from it shows a special preference for history and biography.
The recitation-rooms are no less ample and comfortable in their arrangements.
Our Southern friends drop in occasionally, look curiously round upon these appointments, and take a wholesome object-lesson upon the respect due the negro.
The practical common-sense spirit of the institution is carried into its academic department. The young men and women who enter its Junior class with little preparation beyond the ability to read and write, and the severe lessons of remembered slavery, must go out in three years to supply, as best they may, the demand of their people for teachers and civilizers. The course of training must be as short as is consistent with the attainment of its end, for the need is pressing. With a membership that has increased in five years from twenty to two hundred, an aggregate of fifty graduates doing duty as teachers, and sending out a large class of under-graduates every summer to teach during vacation, the Hampton Institute has not been able to supply one-quarter of the demand made by Virginia school-officers alone. The Superintendent of Schools in North Carolina has also urgently applied for teachers for that State, writing that this school is the only available one of its class for the freedmen in North Carolina.
It is evident that, to secure substantial results in this limited time, the most practical course of, study is essential. No attempt is made, therefore, to give instruction in any language but English, which is itself sufficiently foreign to these untutored tongues to occupy three years of the student's attention to advantage. Reading, spelling, writing, grammar, and composition are carried through the entire course. It includes the other ordinary branches of an English education, with special attention to the principles of natural science. Instruction is also given in book-keeping, drawing, and music. The senior class studies geometry, mechanics, physiology, English history and literature, and the outlines of universal history, the science of civil government, and moral science. It is drilled, besides, in the practice of teaching.
Within these limits there is room to lay the solid foundations of education, and lift the superstructure high enough to give the student an outlook upon the regions beyond, that will guard him from the self-complacency that so commonly endangers the newly rich.
The average capacity of the colored students is, to say the least, fully equal to that of the white pupils in Northern common schools, and often seems to exceed it when the immense difference in their starting-points is considered. Their almost entire want of any capital of general information is a disadvantage difficult to estimate. They have, indeed, picked up broken bits of knowledge behind their masters' chairs, and one is constantly surprised both by what they know and what they do not know. For example, after hearing a bright boy in your reading-class express the opinion that the first Napoleon was an Indian chief, and Shakespeare a Russian general, it is somewhat startling to find him intimate with the oracle of Delphi, and able to tell what is meant by a Fabian policy. I found it difficult to explain or remove a general impression that the British fought us in the Revolution to abolish slavery. Washington is regarded with suspicion, because he was a slave-holder; and in strong confirmation of their distrust I was repeatedly assured that all his statues represent him stretching his hand southward, and saying, in the inscription beneath, " Send all the negroes south." I did what I could for the Father of his Country, but never attempted the ungracious and futile task of shaking the faith, inspired by gratitude, in the saintly virtues of General Butler.
|Teachers' home and girls' quarters at Hampton|
An hour of every Friday afternoon is devoted to giving general instruction by short lectures upon interesting topics of science, history, or travel, and a resume of the principal events of the week. A daily bulletin of news is also made up from the New York papers, and always studied with eagerness, as is anything relating to the country they have so lately learned to think of as their own. The science of civil government, and the history and Constitution of the United States, have special fascination for these new citizens. One of a number who were asked to state their intended pursuits in life wrote, "I wish to be a statesman, for the good of my country." I doubt whether all their hearts are not even thrilling secretly to that intoxicating whisper which has lost its inspiration for Northern school-boys, "What if I should yet be the President of the United States!" However we may smile at this idea, the places of political power are already so far within their reach as to make their education a grave necessity to the country.
As a people the negroes are fond of social organization and combination, and without the most general enlightenment this peculiarity will place them and the whole South at the mercy of unprincipled leaders. Not to tell too many tales out of school, I can find no more amusing illustration of this fondness, and, at the same time, of their curious ignorance of English, and delight in its largest words, than in the books of the Freedman's Bank of Norfolk. Two hundred societies of freedmen have deposited money there, some of them having excellent objects of mutual benefit. But perhaps the very "intelligent reader" will find the names sufficiently descriptive, and I will give a few. Among the two hundred are the Wandering Pilgrims, Noble Sons of Israel, Rising Stars of Jerusalem, Enterprising Daughters of Galilee, Sons of Simeon, Benevolent Daughters of Noah, Evening-Star Tabernacles, Corinthian Traveling Sons and Daughters of Colenia! Laboring Sons of Stars, Union Doves (these "doves" being old men of sixty brief summers), Loving Sons of Levi, Rising Daughters of Italian, Humble Sons of God, Love Lodge of Good Samaritans, Independent Sons and Daughters of St. Paul, Sons and Daughters of the Silver Keys, Seven Wise Men of Portsmouth, Female Israelites of Portsmouth, Wrestling Sons and Daughters of Jacob.
One of the most striking signs of the student's progress is the rapid moderation of such extravagances as these, which they regard as the clinging rags of slavery, and put off as soon as possible. The pupils in Northern seminaries might often take a lesson from the pains with which these colored students correct their own rough speech, and put into immediate use the lessons of the class-room.
This spirit makes the question of school discipline a simple one. The dread of expulsion or suspension from the advantages they appreciate so highly is all that has been found necessary to preserve order, and such extreme penalties are seldom required. The great excess of the number of applicants for admission beyond the room to receive them makes it easy as it is important to select the best material for the very practical purposes of the school. The colored students are generally gentle-natured, and easily led by a teacher possessing patience and sympathy and some knowledge of human nature.
The experiment of teaching both sexes together has proved as eminently successful here as in many white schools and colleges. Woman suffered most from slavery, and everything that can raise her in her own and others' respect is of the utmost importance in the moral elevation of the race. The girls and boys are together in the schoolroom and classes, and have occasional opportunities of social intercourse at the public meetings of the debating clubs and temperance societies and ball matches, or in the teachers' parlor, or the attractive house of the school's genial friend and treasurer, General Marshall, where a few at a time are often invited to spend a pleasant evening. On great holiday occasions they are sometimes indulged in what they call a "play" - a sort of general frolic, something between a children's round game and a contra-dance, which is entered into with great zest by the younger part of the company, though the seniors are apt to look upon it as somewhat too rude and childish.
An officer of the United States army, who had been familiar with the South both before and after the war, remarked to me recently, "The negroes have lost their lightheartedness. They don't sing over their work as they used to in the old times." Accustomed to hear Hampton's walls ring morning and evening with their rich sweet melodies, I was disposed to quarrel with an assertion so contrary to my first impressions. But closer observation shows me this degree of truth in it. Those upon whom the new responsibilities of self-support and citizenship have pressed so suddenly are naturally too much engrossed by them for singing. It is the difference between the crew chanting at the ropes and the captain silently walking the quarter-deck. Is it less happy to think over one's own work than to sing over a task-master's? There is, furthermore, a somewhat natural though deplorable desire in many of the freedmen to forget as fast as possible this old-time music. Looking at it in the half-light of their transition state, they see only a badge of slavery, failing to perceive that they will one day cherish every fragment that remains, as we now cherish the hymns of the Church of the Catacombs.
The younger ones, whose memory of slavery is briefer and their hope for the future higher, sing at their work and after it. Indeed, the negro cannot help singing. Music is this people's natural and best expression. I believe that with as facile a language they would be as true improvvisatori as the Italians. Their musical sense is wonderful. I was struck with this in visiting the Butler School. Part of the entertainment offered the visitors was, of course, to hear the children sing. They were more than ready, and at the first signal the whole dusky band started off upon one of their wildest shouts, everyone in a key of his own choosing, in an indescribable discord and din. In a Northern primary school one's ear would have been tortured to the end; but here, before the close of the first verse, everyone had felt for the right key and found it, and all the little voices were blending in a rich harmony of the parts within their range.
The air of Hampton is seldom unstirred by song. I know no pleasanter recreation after a day's work in the school-room or editorial office than to drift out into the purple sunset of Hampton Roads and listen idly to the wild strains that come floating over the water, the rude song from the picturesque little oyster boats gliding by, and the richer harmonies from the shore where the boys are strolling from their evening meal.
"Did you hear my Jeasus when he called you
Did you hear my Jesus when he called you
Did you hear my Jesus when he called you
For to put on your long white robe?
"When de moon puts on a purple robe,
De sun refuse to shine,
And every star shall disappear,
Jesus he will be mine!
My little children,
Jesus he will be mine!
"Yonder comes my sister I
Oh, how do you know it's her?
I know her by her long white robe,
And her ha'r all tinkling with gold,
My little children,
And her ha'r all tinkling with gold."
There is a pathos in these songs, which is suggested even by reading their simple rhythmical refrains; but their effect, as they come wailing through the twilight on the rich voices they were made for, is something that cannot be described.
"I'm gwine to climb up Jacob's ladder,
I'm gwine to climb up Jacob's ladder,
I'm gwine to climb up Jacob's ladder ;
Den my little soul's gwine to shine, shine,
Oh, den my little soul's gwine to shine, Lord!"
I cannot close a description of the Hampton school for freedmen without speaking of the marvelous eagerness for instruction shown by these children of bondage and ignorance. It can hardly be overstated. It is a constant surprise to the teacher, and makes the fascination of his work. How many white boys could be found in this generation, I wonder, who would, in spite of lameness, walk sixteen miles daily in all weathers, and over a rough Virginia road, for their schooling! How many sisters could bear them company! How many would voluntarily rise before daylight all the cold winter mornings, to gain an hour for unrequited study? There are Hampton students who make these sacrifices, and greater ones, for the privilege of an education.
On the shore, by the school-house, stand five hospital tents, in which thirty at a time have been encamped since last fall, when the school opened with double its former number. Rather than be turned away from its crowded doors, all the young men have cheerfully taken their turn in the hardships, of camp-life through the severest winter Virginia has known since the war. The rejoicings over the warm blankets which reached them on Christmas-day, the gift of generous friends in the North, and over the tiny stoves, which were delayed by northern storms till the worst need of them was past, showed what their hardships had been; but I never heard a complaint made, though asking one of the boys one morning how he had passed the very stormy night before, his answer was, "Oh, first-rate, ma'am, only my head ached some from the snow-drift that blew in on it." It is expected that when the next term opens, three times as many tents will be required, and as cheerfully filled.
If the beautiful school-house is a monument to Northern philanthropy, this little camp in its shadow is surely as noble a witness to the true American spirit of these brave boys.
The girls are exhibiting an equal patience and courage in their dark and overcrowded barracks, where the wind and rain are almost as much at home as in the tents. Many more than ever before are asking for admission to the next class, and must be turned away if no more provision can be made for them. For their necessities especially it has been decided to erect at once one more brick building, to furnish dormitories for them, and the larger dining-hall, chapel, and other rooms imperatively demanded by the general wants of the school.
The same manful energy and promptness of action which have made the institution the power it is today have been brought to bear upon this exigency. The plans are already; the bricks are lying at the brick-kiln of the farm, and the ground is broken for the foundations. The new building will rise just behind the girls' present dormitory, taking into the design the two brick houses at the end, which will be altered for the accommodation of the larger corps of teachers that will be needed. The old barracks must necessarily be left standing till the new quarters are completed, but they are expected to disappear before the beginning of another year.
The $75,000 which this building will cost must come in great part, of course, from the
North. All the outlays of the institution have hitherto been met from appropriations by the American Missionary Association, the Freedmen's Bureau, the Peabody Fund, and by private donations. Of all these dependencies almost the only one left is the last; but it is amply sufficient, for the enterprise stands now upon its own merits, and the great results it has already accomplished are a guarantee of its permanency. America is not making the mistake that England did of leaving her work half done - freeing her slaves to let them slip into the worse bondage of ignorance and vice.
The spirit of self-help in which the school was founded is carried into this plan for its future. The young men will be employed as far as possible upon the actual work of construction, and much of the necessary funds will be won directly or indirectly by the personal efforts of the students.
The idea of utilizing their wonderful musical talent for the good of their people has been for years a favorite one with their enthusiastic superintendent, and the necessities of the hour have at last brought it into execution. In March the chorus of "Hampton Students" entered the field to give concerts for the benefit of the new enterprise. Its reception has proved that the successful campaign of the Jubilee Singers, who had just preceded it on a similar errand, had but excited a public taste for the plaintive music of the past, and roused an interest in its singers. The peculiar strength of the Hampton chorus is the faithful rendering of these original slave songs. Their leader, Mr. Thomas P. Fenner, of Providence, has been remarkably fortunate, while cultivating their voices to a degree capable of executing difficult German songs with a precision of harmony and expression that is delicious, in that he has succeeded in preserving to them in these old-time melodies that pathos and wail which those who have listened to the singing on the old plantations recognize as "the real thing."
These Hampton Students are all expecting to return to Hampton to finish the education that has been interrupted willingly for the good of their people. They have brought their school-books with them to improve what chances for study they may get, and they are anxious to go back to the school-room, if need be to the tents, but let us hope not to the barracks.
At a private reception given to them at the White House after their first concert in Washington, President Grant said to them:
"It is a privilege for me to hear you sing, and I am grateful for this visit. The object you have in view is excellent - not only good for your people, but for all the people, for the nation at large. The education you aim at will fit you for the duties and responsibilities of citizens, for all the work of life. I wish you abundant success among the people wherever you go, and success to those you represent in reaching a high degree of knowledge and usefulness."
I think that no one can listen to this touching music and look on these dark faces, remembering the tragic story of their past and the brave struggle they are making for their future, without echoing the President's God-speed, and recognizing a prophecy as well as an aspiration in their simple refrain:
"I'm gwine to climb up higher and higher,
I'm gwine to climb up higher and higher, I'm gwine to climb up higher and higher;
Den my little soul's gwine to shine, shine,
Oh, den my little soul's gwine to shine, Lord!"
Since the foregoing description was written the corner-stone of the new hall has been laid, with interesting ceremonies, in the presence of many visitors whose names are known throughout the North and South and England, drawn to Hampton by the interest of this occasion and of the Commencement exercises of the school, and by their desire to inspect the successful operation of the manual-labor system in Southern education. The prize oration of the day was delivered by the student whose biography has been given in this article, and who, as his letter shows, ten years ago did not know how to put letters together.
In announcing the design of the new hall General Armstrong said, "As security for its completion we have our faith in our own earnest efforts, in the people of this country, and in our God."
|Chapel and farm managers house at Hampton|
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. October 1873.