Now, in 2016, I can finally answer my mother’s original question. It was the public schools. While not perfect, the public schools never closed in either Mobile or Richmond because black parents, community leaders, and even students successfully argued that the schools were their fundamental right as citizens. These urban African Americans never lost sight of their vision of citizenship and freedom in their struggle for educational access and legitimacy for the African American schoolhouse. Their vision, therefore, allowed for the emergence of a sustainable system of public schools but also the employment of black teachers, creation of teacher training program, and the development of the essential educational resources. Together, the public schoolhouse and the church survived Reconstruction. Both were essential for the next phase of the African American experience even when the nation failed to uphold the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, black leaders failed, and people tried to find their way against extreme odds to live with dignity.
Reconstruction matters. It remains one of the most misunderstood periods in American history and there is a lot of scholarly work that needs to be done. Redemption (so-called) neither stopped black activism nor prevented significant victories from occurring in African Americans’ quest for citizenship and education. We need to examine the periodization of Reconstruction and terms taken for granted – i.e. Redemption and even the Nadir. We, as historians, need to find a way to discuss the role and power of hope in understanding the post-emancipation period. We also need to think more seriously about bringing our knowledge and expertise beyond the academy and into the broader public.
P.S. You can follow news on the book at https://www.facebook.com/Educational-Reconstruction-African-American-Schools-in-the-Urban-South-1543618449295898/.