Religious Capital of the Oppressed: The Black Church and Black Schooling in Antebellum Philadelphia 1783- 1861

Religious Capital of the Oppressed: The Black Church and Black Schooling in Antebellum Philadelphia 1783- 1861

Evan Willis
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1181-7.ch002
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Black advancement in Antebellum Philadelphia was not solely a byproduct of White philanthropy, but Black residents advocated for a more inclusive form of education. Scholars have considered the influence of the Black church in educational progress, but not the influence of religion on the educational advocates. This chapter analyzes religion as a form of capital on the antebellum Philadelphian Black Christian community. This chapter achieved this by conducting a socio-historical content analysis of primary sources such as sermon manuscripts and books, as well as secondary sources such as history books and journal articles. Ultimately, the chapter findings suggest that religion was a motivator of the educational advancement for the Black educational advocates and churches, whereas for the White Christian community Black education was informed by deficit-based perspectives. The author of this chapter suggest that Black Christian Education can serve as a useful educational alternative especially if it embraces a social justice orientation to empower Black students.
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Early Black Education Initiatives

The earliest voice on Black education, before 1861, was Carter G. Woodson. His work began with Black education prior to 1861 (Woodson, 1915). His rich history of Black education illuminated the intelligence of Black communities and their desire to learn (Woodson, 1915); his history also challenged the notion that Black people were mentally inferior, giving Black Americans a new lens to analyze the history of Whites attempting to educate Black Americans. Many White educators, including abolitionists, assumed that Black students were so damaged by slavery that they were de-humanized (Foster, 1975). However, this work demonstrated the perseverance and the resilience of the Black community in the midst of slavery because the trauma did not destroy the former slaves. Woodson (1915) took a large-scale approach to the Black education dilemma and considered the role of religion in educating the students, but due to his broad focus, the approach does not offer an in-depth analysis of Black education in cities like Philadelphia, PA. Woodson did not address the White resistance regarding Black education in Philadelphia (James, 1958). Thus, he did not highlight the influence of the Black church in creating educational opportunities for Black Americans.

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