Gendering the Debate over African Americans' Education in the 1880s: Frances Harper's Reconfiguration of Atticus Haygood's Philanthropic Model

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In the years after the Civil War, white Americans north and south debated the capacity of former slaves to be educated for citizenship, while leading African American authors (and some white supporters) used fiction, speeches, and other forms to demonstrate the capabilities of the race for full civic participation. As evident in teaching texts like Lydia Maria Child's The Freedmen's Book and novels like Albion Tourgée's Bricks Without Straw, this discourse about democratic participation was often closely bound up with arguments about whether or not the freedmen of the south should or even could be educated. By the 1880s, when Radical Reconstruction had been displaced by calls for national reconciliation, this contest frequently shifted focus to the kind and degree of education most suitable for African Americans. Some "New South" leaders began to suggest to their constituencies that making some allowances for the education of blacks could bring long-term benefits to a region that clearly needed to become industrialized.