Daily Reading for September 3 • Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness, 1890
In 1833, many Americans still supported slavery. Many others hated both slavery and abolitionists. They thought slavery was evil but feared that giving immediate freedom to millions of poor, uneducated black slaves might hurt the U.S. economy, flood the country with beggars and criminals, and cause a serious break between the North and the South. So few white Americans supported the abolitionist cause that in 1831 only twenty-five of Garrison’s five hundred subscribers to the Liberator were white. Things were so bad that sometimes, in low moments, Garrison must have felt that he was trying to change the world single-handedly. When a friend urged him to “keep more cool,” the editor explained, “I . . . need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice . . . to melt.”
To melt those mountains, Garrison needed allies, and Prudence was ready, willing, and able to help. Besides, she was a teacher.
That was particularly important. If black people were ever going to win equal rights and good jobs in America, they needed education. Garrison and his supporters knew that. But African Americans found that learning was very hard to come by. So few U.S. schools and colleges were willing to teach black pupils that in 1865, when the Civil War ended, only one out of every twenty African Americans could read.
In the 1830s, southerners were so afraid that educated blacks might rebel against slavery that they passed laws against teaching African Americans. . . . In the North, where many feared that educated blacks might take jobs from white workers, black children were seldom allowed to enter white schools. White teachers rarely taught black pupils, and schools for African Americans were scarce. . . .
Prudence was planning to do something about this terrible problem. Not only was she planning to open a school for African-American girls, but she was offering to teach advanced grammar, math, and science—the sorts of subjects that would eventually allow her black students to teach other African-American pupils. It was like a dream come true. Garrison was enthusiastic. He wanted to help.
From Forbidden Schoolhouse by Suzanne Jurmain (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005).