By Alfred Brophy
What did students study in Southern colleges before the Civil War? Well, in algebra class, they sometimes studied how terrible Yankees were. Take several examples from the math textbook of Professor D. H. Hill of Davidson College:
A Yankee mixes a certain number of wooden nutmegs, which cost him 1/4 cent apiece, with a quantity of real nutmegs, worth 4 cents apiece, and sells the whole assortment for $44; and gains $3.75 by the fraud. How many wooden nutmegs were there?
Fun in math class, eh? (Am I right in thinking that 4x-1/4x=375?)
And they studied the hiring of a slave:
A planter hired a negro-man at the rate of $100 per annum, and his clothing. At the end of 8 months the master of the slave took him home, and received $75 in cash, and no clothing. What was the clothing valued at?
Also, on the issue of emancipation and the generosity of North and South, try this problem:
A gentleman in Richmond expressed a willingness to liberate his slave, valued at $1000, upon the receipt of that sum from charitable persons. He received contributions from 24 persons; and of these there were 14/19ths fewer from the North than from the South, and the average donation of the former was 4/5ths smaller than that of the latter. What was the entire amount given by the latter?
Mighty interesting stuff to see what’s on the minds of antebellum textbook authors, isn’t it? I will talk shortly about some of the more traditional curriculum in southern colleges shortly.
By Alfred Brophy
I’ve been talking about African American intellectuals, their literary output, and the era of Jim Crow a bunch of late.
One of my favorite works of history is W. Sherman Savage‘s The Controversy Over the Distribution of Abolitionist Literature, 1830-1860 (1938), by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Why has it won this place in my heart? In part because of the conditions under which Dr. Savage (who was a professor of history at Lincoln University) wrote and published it–in the dark days of Jim Crow. Its newsprint paper testifies to the difficult economic conditions of its publication. Yet, despite the hardships of being an African American scholar of extremely modest background and means, Dr. Savage persevered.
I first fell in love with this volume when, as a third year law student (now many, many years ago) I was working on the response to abolitionist literature that was mailed through the United States mail to southern slaveholders and free blacks alike. The abolitionists’ campaign was a shrewd one–to use that great engine of commerce, the mails, to get their ideas into the hands of people where they might have an impact. The response testifies to the power of ideas to liberate us as a people.
Savage’s volume collected a lot of wisdom and presented it in simple and therefore elegant prose. And as I wondered about why such an important work was printed on such, well, inexpensive paper it dawned on me that this was the case because this was likely all the publisher could afford. Ah, further testimony to how ideas can find expression and an audience, even when they are not clothed in the trappings of wealth and majesty.
It’s further testimony to the perseverance of people who sought to tell the truth in those dark days–and were able to help our country remake itself.
Savage’s book is also a reminder that the mainstream academy does not always address issues of importance to African Americans. As Christopher Metzler’s been talking about here of late, we need to be careful to produce scholarship of importance to the African American community–and to our country as a whole. Similarly, we ought to be very suspicious of our colleagues who tell us that issues of race aren’t important or that we’ve already learned what we’re going to from research on race.