Jasmine Tucker: Religious Organizations and the Education of Black Children

By Jasmine E. Tucker

Nuns on a Bus Tour led by Sis. Simone Campbell

Every morning when I walk out of Union Station, I always grab a newspaper from the vendors outside on Massachusetts Avenue. One morning a few weeks ago, I opened a Washington Express paper and saw a group of elderly women on the inside. The women were just not brochure-peddling evangelists, but these nuns had created the Nuns on the Bus campaign. Sister Simone Campbell led a bus tour throughout the Midwest visiting cities such as Philadelphia, Columbus, Toledo, and concluding in Washington, D.C.

Their goal was to educate the community about the current House budget created by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan’s budget, entitled “The Path to Prosperity, is going to raise taxes on 18 million low-income families while cutting taxes for millionaires and big corporations. It would also push the families of 2 million children into poverty and kick 8 million people off of food stamps and 30 million off of health care. The Ryan budget would ultimately affect residents of Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin only.

Most importantly, the budget is going to completely reshape the education field. This budget will especially hit home for me, because I am a native of Columbus, Ohio. The budget will cut $72.6 million out of Ohio’s Head Start budget, which will result in 10,416 Head Start preschool slots being eliminated, and 3,300 lost jobs over the next two years. More than $110.8 million will be cut out of special education funding affecting over 60,000 special education students in the state of Ohio. Title I funding, which is used to aid low performing schools, will also be reduced immensely. Over 65,000 students will be affected by this change, and over 1,500 jobs will be lost with a reduction of Title I spending.

Rep. Paul Ryan holds a copy of the House budget

With the partnership of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations, the Faithful Budget was created. The Faithful Budget, endorsed by the Nuns on the Bus campaign, is an alternative budget that provides a compromise that allows the wealthy to retain their wealth while uplifting the poor at the same time. In the education component of the Faithful Budget, the aims are to continue expanding education reform rather than allow Congressman Ryan to debilitate it.

I applaud Sister Simone’s efforts to reform education through an alternative budget, however I think the private religious sector may underestimate its power. If it reappropriates its efforts in a way that does not involve politics, it has the possibility of creating substantial social change. In a world where Washington politicians make all of the major decisions, the well being of African-Americans will always be last on the agenda.

A new source of power needs to be reintegrated into the African-American community. There was once a time when religious groups were able to create and sustain institutions that benefited the well being of the African-American community. Religious organizations have the capability to unite and make some major changes for the education agenda. One organization made a key impact on education for African-Americans, and its evidence is still manifesting today.

During the late 1860s and 1870s, Northern churches and religious societies established dozens of normal academies and colleges in the South. A majority of the institutions taught elementary and secondary education. Only a small amount of Black students were prepared for college level work. The American Missionary Association – an abolitionist and Congregationalist organization – collaborated with the Freedmen’s Bureau to create Fisk in Nashville, Hampton in Virginia, Tougaloo in Alabama, and Avery in South Carolina.

The American Missionary Association

These institutions implemented a curriculum based on elementary and secondary education, liberal education, and vocational education. AMA’s primary goal was to train black students to become teachers. AMA was instrumental in sending teachers and clergymen to the South to cater to the spiritual and educational needs of the freedmen.

AMA made a significant contribution by stepping from behind the pulpit and going into the community and creating sustenance. The church was able to fundraise by holding bazaars, hosting bake sales, and creating missionary and quilting societies to pay for their major projects. Some churches are doing great things by creating Christian academies and summer education programs, but collectively they can do so much more.

Imagine if Potter’s House, World Changers Church, Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, and New Birth Missionary Baptist were to establish a campaign to raise funds for new Christian schools across the country. With the revenue that they earn in their churches and from fundraising, they could afford to maintain schools that teach African-American children. The Christian churches have the revenue and members to contribute a great deal to providing an alternative education program for African-American children. If they can feed the poor, conduct missionary trips, and still place ATMs in their churches, then they can create schools and provide books and teachers for our Black children.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major/African-American Studies minor at Howard University. She is also an educational issues intern at the American Federation of Teachers. Follow Jasmine on Twitter @YourQueen2Bee.

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The Need for a Renewed Black-Operated Freedmen’s Bureau

A Bureau agent stands between armed groups of Southern Whites and freedmen

By Jasmine E. Tucker

New York City is the home to the largest population of African-Americans in the country, however only 1 out of 10 students out of the five boroughs will graduate from college. There are 33,000 abandoned homes in the city of Detroit. Cleveland has the highest unemployment rate for African-Americans in the country. Los Angeles has the highest population of homeless African-Americans in the nation. Sadly in Washington, D.C., almost half of the African-American population is suffering from AIDs.

All of these barefaced statistics are statements that we as a people have been marred by everyday in this generation’s existence. With this epidemic of suffering that is affecting millions of African-Americans; one can only wonder what the future will hold for our race. Relying on one’s faith can only get us so far. Being in America to suffer because of our race has been an underlying theme since the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade.

I can only recall one circumstance where this nation’s government has created a reform program geared specifically towards African-Americans. The establishment of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands – more commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau – is to this day the only reform system that was geared toward the well-being of African-Americans. Even though the Bureau’s goal was to also assist poor Caucasian refugees, their main goal was to give newly- freed slaves a clean slate after emancipation to work and learn.

A renewed Black-operated Freedmen’s Bureau in today’s society may be beneficial in correcting the social injustices plaguing the African-American community. The Bureau of Reconstruction was not able to completely renovate the African-American community; however it made many strides to improve the quality of life for African-Americans after the emancipation.

By the end of the Civil War, the South had been distraught. Many former slaves and White refugees faced starvation and lacked basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. It soon became obvious to the U.S. government that additional aid was required to end the anguish in the South and help Whites and Blacks to restructure their lives. In response to this need, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act in 1865. The agency provided food, clothing, and shelter for hungry and homeless Whites and Blacks. The Bureau was also accountable for supporting former slaves in negotiating fair labor contracts with Whites and building schools to help educate their children and themselves.

General Oliver Otis Howard

One of the first Black colleges created during the Reconstruction era was Howard University, founded in 1867 by General Oliver Otis Howard, who was also the first head of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Bureau established camps for the homeless, fed the hungry, and cared for orphans to the best of its ability. Additionally, the Bureau provided medical care to half a million freedmen and was responsible for implementing the Special Order #15, which we all know as “forty acres and a mule.” Despite all these accomplishments, the Bureau was also very flawed.

Congress never provided adequate funds or personnel to carry out the task of assisting the poor. The allocation of Bureau agents was scarce across the South, with usually one agent representing up to 20,000 people. There were few African-American agents, because only a small number of military officers were Black. Although the bureau’s primary concern was the welfare of former slaves, it actually served more poor Whites than Blacks.

Sharecropping was in fact introduced to the South on a sweeping basis by the Freemen’s Bureau. After emancipation and the abolition of the plantation system, the Freedmen’s Bureau assisted Blacks in negotiating contracts for pay or a share of what they produced for their former masters. Sadly, once President Andrew Johnson was sworn in as the new president, he began to pardon thousands of former Confederates and returned their land to them ending the Special Order #15.

40 acres and a mule

As stated previously, America needs a new Black-operated Freedmen’s Bureau. This bureau, which was a part of the Department of War, was created to not only assist poor White refugees, but mostly to assist the approximately four million newly freed slaves. Yet Congress and its White agents manipulated their power and misappropriated funds that could have helped the poor.

In today’s society, we are not physically enslaved like our ancestors were; however we are suffering from hunger, poverty, inadequate education, unemployment, and a lack of health coverage. Maybe a new federal program that is anchored specifically towards the African-American community will usher in improvements for the well being of our people and our children in the generations to come.

If the theory of the Dubois’ Talented Tenth can be applied, I’m sure the leaders in our community can create a movement of social change. We do not only owe it to ourselves, but we owe it to our children who are going to be in this world with skin that will forever hinder them. If it could be done in 1865, I believe our brothers and sisters can bring it into fruition now.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major and African-American studies minor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She’s also currently an Educational Issues Intern at the American Federation of Teachers.