Original Document
Original Document
P. H. Murray, on the "Colored Common Schools in Pennsylvania," 1859.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

MR. EDITOR: SIR:–I make bold to say, that in no northern State except Indiana, is the public school interests of colored children so meanly maintained as in Pennsylvania.

Colored day schools, in the character and locality of their buildings, when they have any; in the convenience and facilities of their school-rooms-such as ventilation, seats, desks, and apparatus; in the grade of studies taught, and often in the term and salary for teaching are among the meanest things to be met with in the State.

In Lancaster, republican Lancaster, the home of the lamented Stevens, colored children are huddled in a little back room, away from day and civilization, and are taught the most primary branches, by a teacher accepting a very reduced salary in pity for the colored children, knowing that the School Board will not pay more. These wronged children are crammed upon seats along the sides of the room for which the walls have to form backs, with neither room enough to separate and grade them into classes, or to afford space for the recitation of their lessons.

In Germantown there was no common school provided for colored children by the Board last year and probably none yet. Colored children were taught by a teacher supported by contributions made by the parents and Quakers.

In Williamsport colored children were only allowed three months' schooling in the year, and white children have ten months, of course.

In Harrisburg, almost within sound of the Capitol, colored children are gathered in a mean room, with mean seats with mean light to study by and the thumping noise of an iron work shop adjoining, to arouse them to their lessons.

These are but a few instances of the kind, which are prevalent throughout the State, with a few very recent improvements.

The high and the normal schools are closed against us, and the schools which are provided for our children are so unattractive and shamefully deficient as to make indifferent the strongest desire for education.

Until a higher and better grade of common schools are furnished us colleges will be of little service, and the energies of such institutions as Avery College, Colored Institute and Lincoln University will be greatly crippled in their efforts to educate the colored youth of the State.

It is the State public schools that children are mainly prepared for the college. How many colored children have those low graded common schools, which are, furnished them, prepared for ordinary business, much less for academically institutions? Without the advantages of the high common schools the colored applicant is admitted into a college here and there, and must undergo a preparatory process of instruction occupying years, before he can enter into the regular collegiate studies.

There are instances, and the proportion of them is not mean, of colored college students forming a class in the simplest rules of arithmetic, or in the spelling of words of two and three syllables, and they are comparatively diffident in other rudimentary studies. Much of this preparatory instruction should have been obtained in the common school.

What we require in this State, to make proper material for colleges is, that our school privileges be improved and that children be admitted to pass through every grade of the public education provided by the State. It is not reasonable to argue that we have schools, for their deficiency is too evident; nor that our taxation is not sufficient, for if so, our poverty would only strengthen our claim to the State's care; nor that anything but a prejudice, which no civil circumstance of ours could justify, is the cause of this proscription. And it is to the shame of this great common wealth, that a prejudice so barbarous, and relentless beats us down everywhere, not only at the polls, not only in the avenues of industry and the social spheres of life, nor alone when we have wrought an iron manhood out of the furnace of a persecuted life; but that it meets our little children in the school and frowns them down there, bars them out in the cold and dark, and would put the scar of ignorance upon their innocent souls is a burning shame.

The colored citizens of this State have been negligent long enough upon this subject. While we write in bold and bright letters upon our banner "equal rights to all men," let us place just below it in words not less bright, but more deeply graven "equal rights to all children." Let us urge that the State, which boasts of the citizenship of the "Great Commoner", may be guided by the principles which he hallowed by his death, and that the spirit of his impartial nature become as he was, "the father of the common school system of the State."


Credit: The Christian Recorder, February 27, 1869.
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