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The Value of Education

Whether enslaved or free, African Americans—like so many Americans—viewed education as the key to changing their status. Communities banded together to build and support public schools. When acquiring an education was illegal, African Americans labored together and alongside white abolitionists to establish institutions of higher learning.

After the Civil War, the government laid the foundation for public education for all citizens. However, the end of Reconstruction hastened a return to localized control of segregated school systems in the South; thus Reconstruction's initial progress was soon halted. In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson solidified the practice of “separate but equal” education. Separate public education for African Americans was limited to elementary schools, which often possessed inadequate facilities. These schools also received fewer and inferior resources, including used, outdated books and audio visuals. Despite these and other obstacles, African Americans sought education—from basic reading and writing to advanced intellectual pursuits—and established colleges and universities to ensure a stellar legacy of achievement.

The Value of Education: Resources

Black and white photograph of Honor Roll student depicts nine young men posing in a group. Standing in front of a brick wall, they stand below large letters that spell "AUGUSTINE HIGH SCHOOL."

NMAAHC Collection Search


Search the Museum’s online collection for items related to education

Screenshot of HBCU Digital Library

HBCU Library Alliance

A Digital Collection Celebrating the Founding of the Historically Black College and University

Browse this online collection dedicated to preserving images from Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCU History Library screenshot

History of the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)

Learn more about the histories of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and browse a listing of resources at Virginia State University, University Libraries

Screenshot of (H)our History Lesson Site

Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and Modernized Schools

(H)our History Lesson

The National Park Service provides this lesson plan for teachers on the history of Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and their work developing the Rosenwald Schools

Screenshot of Rosenwald Schools National Trust for Historic Preservation site

Rosenwald Schools

National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

Explore more about the Rosenwald Schools and other building, landscape, and community preservation projects