Education: Page 2

“What benefit can it be to a waiter or coachman to read Horace, or be a profound mathematician?” editorialized a local newspaper when a group of forward-thinkers attempted to found a school for young black men in New Haven in 1831. (By a vote of 700 to 4, townspeople rejected the idea of the school.)

Though Connecticut’s black population paid taxes, they were not allowed to send their children to school with whites, and the schools they established independently operated with few resources and little community support. Yet education was treasured among blacks, and was clearly understood to be a link to upward mobility, property ownership and a better life.

Prudence Crandall’s academy for young white women in Canterbury had been open for not quite a year when a young black woman named Sarah Harris applied for admission in the fall of 1832. Deeply influenced by abolitionist leader and editor William Lloyd Garrison, Crandall decided to close her academy and reopen it as a school for black girls.

Advertising in Garrison’s anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator that she would teach “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, English Grammar, Geography, History, Natural and Moral Philosophy, Chemistry, Music on the Piano, together with the French language,” Crandall reopened her school in April 1833 and by June had nearly 20 black students from Connecticut and around New England.

Earlier, Canterbury’s white families had happily sent their daughters to Crandall’s school, but they reacted with outrage when the same curriculum was offered to young black women…