Schools

LeMoyne Normal Institute, Professor L.T. Larsen, Principal, 1909
LeMoyne Normal Institute, Professor L.T. Larsen, Principal, Memphis, Tennessee, 1908-1909. LeMoyne-Owen College. Full Record.

If the Pikeville church or Beth Salem church looked like the unadorned one-room schools located across the countryside, there was a good reason:  they were schools during the week and churches on the weekends. That churches served secular and sacred functions buttressed their symbolic role as distinct places of identity and culture for African Americans.  Typically it took a generation to create this institutional network of churches, schools, cemeteries, lodges, and early businesses--and the community stability provided by these institutions proved invaluable as rural African Americans withstood the onslaught of Jim Crow segregation from the late 1880s forward.

As historian Crystal deGregory has chronicled, a few private schools created by and for African Americans and supported by those who could afford the tuition, existed in Tennessee before the Civil War. In and near federal military installations and in the early post-war period, groups such as the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau opened primary schools for both adults and children. Immediately following Emancipation, secondary schools with high standards and aspirations, such as Nashville’s Fisk University, Knoxville College, and LeMoyne College in Memphis, attracted students, some of them children of former slaves, from nearby states.  Supported by private tuition and philanthropic patronage, these institutions taught the first generations of teachers, business and civic leaders, and those who went on to become medical and legal professionals in Tennessee.

Lesson Plan: Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Tennessee