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(1875) John Wesley Cromwell, “Address on the Difficulties of the Colored Youth in Obtaining an Education in the Virginias”

Twenty-nine year old John Wesley Cromwell, born into slavery in 1846, was by 1875 an attorney, politician, educator, and newspaper editor, was a rising leader in Virginia’s Reconstruction-era African American community.  On August 23, 1875, he addressed the Colored Educational Convention meeting in Richmond.  His remarks appear below.

“Whatever helps to shape the human being—to make the individual what he is, or hinder him from being that he is not—is part of his education.” (John Stuart Mill)

With this idea of education we fully concur. Of course a work like this must be begun early in life. The parent is a natural teacher of the child. . . The State assumes the discharge of this duty of instruction, and because the work on the whole, under its supervision and control, will be better and more efficiently done. . . . The moral and intellectual education which the state gives to the youth, should be such as to harmonize the moral and intellectual qualities with the physical growth of a healthy human creature, so that. . .we would have men and women in the healthy exercise and full development of their moral and intellectual powers, worthy accessions to society.

Looking especially at the condition of the Colored Youth of the State, we naturally ask what proportion is accommodated and found regularly in attendance upon public instruction. Is the instruction given the best for the purpose of the growth and development of their intellects and morals? Are there any external influences at work tending to cramp the minds of our youth, stunt their growth, and limit the sphere of their future operations?...

By examining the report of the Hon. W. H. Ruffner, State Superintendent of Schools, for the year ending September 30th, 1874, the information is given that during the school year were 177,317 colored children of school age in this State. There were in operation 994 schools for colored children, and in these were enrolled 52,086 pupils or 52 to a teacher, but the average attendance was only 28,928, 55% of the

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