Freedmen's Public School Letters

Subject

School; Community

Description

According to Florence historian Lee Freeman, "The Freedmen’s Public School, seems to have succeeded a series of earlier schools, such as that taught in 1865 by native African-American and former Wesleyan College bootblack "Prof." George Poole (1830-aft. 1900) and also a school under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau in early 1866 taught by EM Mears and his wife (apparently supported by a Presbyterian Aid Society). In mid-1869 the Mears appear to have opened up a private academy in Florence which had 22 students.



The Freedmen's Public School opened on October 29, 1866 at Church Springs Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church (now Greater St. Paul AME Church), which was located on the NE corner of Court and Bluff Streets, and was founded by the Pittsburgh Freedmen’s Aid Commission. There was no tuition and the principal was noted black educator Oscar M. Waring (1837-1911), a graduate of Oberlin College. Waring was assisted by locals William S. Robinson and (Celeste?) Allen. Starting with 40 students, by July of 1867 the enrollment was reported as 204 "and so successful was Mr. Waring that a number came from neighboring places to board in Florence and to go to school." The result was that "From the testimony of a number of the most prominent white citizens, including Gov. [RM] Patton, the local press, and our Superintendent, this has been one of the most successful Freedmen's schools in the Southwest." Besides the ordinary curriculum, the Freedmen’s Public school also had a Normal Department "in which the more advanced pupils [will] be placed and instructed with a view to preparing them for teachers."




On January 24, 1867, white educator Dr. David R. Lindsay (1821-1898), brother of Alabama Governor Robert B. Lindsay and uncle of Maud Lindsay, editor of the Florence Journal reported that “The school in Florence is apparently in a flourishing condition, and the character of its teacher in his outward conduct is entirely blameless, and creditable to him as a stranger in our community.”



The school, founded to educate the children of Florence’s freed slaves, apparently eventually morphed into the Florence Colored Grammar School, which by October of 1869 was being conducted by noted black educator educator Jacob Reed Ballard (1845-1902). There is some confusion regarding these early schools and their principals and teachers. For example, in September of 1869 a "Miss Graham" of Albany, New York was said to be superintendent of a freedmen's school in Florence, Alabama. Graham was reportedly harassed into leaving town by a group of Klansmen. So far I can't find any other references anywhere to this Miss Graham or her run-in with the Klan. Prof. Oscar Waring seems to have remained in Florence until sometime in early 1869, at which time he relocated to Winchester, Virginia where he worked as a teacher for the Presbyterian Committee on Missions until 1872; he earned his law degree and taught mathematics at Alcorn College before serving a principal at a school in Louisville, Kentucky. By 1879 Waring and his wife (whom he married while in Louisville) moved to St. Louis, Missouri where Prof. Waring served as principal of the Charles Sumner High School until his retirement in 1908; he died in St. Louis in 1911 and the City of St. Louis named the Oscar M. Waring Elementary School in his honor in 1940."

Creator

C.A. Tenge (1 and 2, 6)
F.M. Mears (3 and 4)
Oscar M. Waring (5)

Source

Huntsville, Series 111, Vol.. 57, p. 245, #391. (1 and 2)
Huntsville, Series 112, Vol. 58, Letters Received, pp. 170-171, # 541. (3 and 4)
Huntsville, Series 112, Vol. 59, Letters Received, p. 29. (5)
From Huntsville, Series 112, Vol. 59, Letters Received, p. 28. (6)

Contributor

Lee Freeman

Rights

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Format

JPG

Language

English

Type

Still Image

Identifier

Feb_1866_p_1.jpg (1)
Feb_1866_p_2.jpg (2)
May_15_1866_p_1.jpg (3)
May_15_1866_p_2.jpg (4)
Nov_2_1866.jpg (5)
Nov_6_1866.jpg (6)

Original Format

Letter

Files

Nov 2 1866.jpg
Nov 6 1866.jpg
Feb 1866 p 1.jpg
Feb 1866 p 2.jpg
May 15 1866 p 1.jpg
May 15 1866 p 2.jpg

Collection

Citation

C.A. Tenge (1 and 2, 6), F.M. Mears (3 and 4), and Oscar M. Waring (5), “Freedmen's Public School Letters,” Shoals Black History, accessed January 16, 2021, https://shoalsblackhistory.omeka.net/items/show/656.