Angels of mercy leave their privileged lives to reach out to (former) slaves, hungry for learning : the story of some scandalous 'do-gooders.'

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Someone who cared - a teacher


inspiration and uplift

Lady Lynn

the ink is black ~ the page is white ~ together we learn ~ to read and write

America's progress towards literacy has had a mixed history, but the march has been steady. While New England has long been considered the leader in learning, what with its Puritan emphasis on teaching basic biblical skills to everyone -- girls as well as boys, poor no less than rich -- other sections have also (eventually) recognized the importance of the lamp of education. Margaret Douglas may have been alone in her effort, and she may have suffered "defeat" -- but her example shines through history as an inspiration to us today. She was indeed - Someone Who Cared.

Love in Action

love in action
    Black and White
The ink is black, the page is white
Together we learn to read and write (Read and write )
And now a child can understand
This is the law in all the land (All the land )
The ink is black, the page is white
Together we learn to read and write (Read and write )

The slate is black, the chalk is white
The words stand out so clear and bright (Clear and bright )
And now at last we plainly see The alphabet of liberty (Liberty )
The slate is black, the chalk is white
The words stand out so clear and bright (Clear and bright )
A child is black, a child is white
The whole world looks upon the sight (A beautiful sight )
And very well the whole world knows
This is the way that freedom grows (Freedom grows )
A child is black, a child is white
The whole world looks upon the sight (A beautiful sight )

The world is black, the world is white
It turns by day and it turns by night (It turns by night )
It turns so each and everyone
Can take his station in the sun (In the sun )
The world is black, the world is white
It turns by day and it turns by night (It turns by night )

Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Story of a Teacher
her crime was caring
Margaret Douglas, a white woman, deserves to be called a southern `lady` in the true and complete sense of the term. She had been born in Washington, DC, raised and married in Charleston, South Carolina, and had moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1845 with her daughter Rosa. A white woman, she came from a slaveholding family and had owned slaves herself.

In early 1852, she dropped by a Norfolk barbershop to discuss some "business" with the proprietor, who was a free Negro. Looking over the proprietor's shoulder, she noticed two small Negro boys sitting in the back of the shop studying spelling books. The Barber said they were his and that what Mrs. Douglas was witnessing was the full extent of their educational opportunity. He explained that "there was no one who took interest enough in little colored children to keep a day school for them."

"Without further consideration or hesitation," former slaveholder Douglas offered to teach the barber's children -- he turned out to have five--how to read and write. The following week, she welcomed the children into her home, where she and Rosa gave them daily literary instruction at no charge. After several months of successful teaching, she decided to open a school for free Negro children for a fee of three dollars per quarter. They were "overrun with applications" and opened for business in June 1852 with twenty-five students.

On May 9, 1853, at about 8:30 am, two city constables -- Constable Cherry and Constable Cox -- suddenly appeared at Mrs. Douglas's doorstep with an arrest warrent for her and Rosa. The charge was "teaching colored children to read and to write" in violation of the statutes of Virginia. It ws an open-and-shut case: if ever two scoundrels were guilty of the defense charges, Margaret and Rosa Douglas were.

The constables brought Mrs. Douglas, her daughter, and the twenty five frightened children to Mayor Simon S. Stubbs for questioning. Mrs. Douglas was jarred when the Mayor explained the charge to her. She had known of course that learning wsa forbidden to slaves as a result of that terrible slave revolt led by Nate Turner in the thirties. But free Negros! Why should it be unlawful to teach intellegent, earnest, free, Negro children the basic skills of civilization?

Of course, she kept these subversive sentiments to herself. To the mayor she simply said that she had not been aware of the law she had violated, adding that if she had broken the law by her beneficent actions, the mayor should "do [his] duty and put me in prison at once, for I will ask no favors at the hands of any man." Mayor Stubbs none the less did her the favor of dismissing the case on the grounds that she had been ignorant of the illegality of her conduct.

The local grand jury refused to leave fair enough alone, however, and insisited on returning indictments charging Margaret and Rosa Douglas with unlawfully teaching Negro children to read and write.

On Novemvber 2, 1853, Mrs. Douglas went to trial without counsel before Judge Richard H. Baker and a jury of twelve white men (Rosa having fled to New York City). Her lack of defense counsel proved to be no great hardship. After letting the prosecution prove its case without opposition -- the facts being undisputed -- she rose to make her jury speech. It was not a speech a professional lawyer would or could have made. She spoke not of legal right and wrong, but of everyday life, compassion, and helping. A mediocre lawyer would have scoffed a the speech; a good one would have envied it. After establishing her orthodox credentials -- "I have been slave-holder....I am no abolitionist, neither am I a fanatic" -- she proceded to reveal herself as a true radical declaring with unexpectedly fierce conviction: "I am a strong advocate for the religious and moral instruction of the whole human family!" The issue before the jurors was her technical defense of ignorance of the law, but ... she was more interested in a higher and deeper law. "Let it be the welfare of your people and your country that you seek, and I'm with you, heart and soul.... This is a matter that calls for the consideration of every true and noble heart, the welfare of our people," she challenged them.

True and noble hearts? The welfare of our people? What did such things have to do with whether a violation of the law of the commonwealth had occured, the jurors wondered.

Douglas told them. If the jurors were to do justice, she said, they must look beyond the letter of the law to the hard of facts life and judge them in unadorned human terms. The technical law could not aid that process, only the jurors' human experience could:

Let us look into the situation of our colored population in the city of Norfolk for they are not dumb brutes. If they were, they would be more carefully considered, and their welfare better provided for. For instance, two or three of these people are not allowed to assemble together by themselves, whether in sickness or in health. There is no provision made for them whatever the circumstances may be and such mettings are pronounced unlawful and treasonable. Think you, gentlemen, that there is not misery and distress among these people? Yes, indeed, misery enough, and frequently starvation. Even those that are called free are heavily taxed and their privileges greatly limited....

She put it to her twelve men jurors straight: Granted that they lacked the moral fiber to alleviate such horrors of inequality themselves, how could they conceiveably justify punishing those who undertook to do it for them? It was a dangerous, almost suicidal speech, but it was the only one to be made:

And when they are sick or in want on whom does the duty devolve to seek them and administer to their necessities? Does it fall on you, gentlemen? Oh, no, it is not expected that gentlemen will take the time to seek out a Negro hut for the purpose of alleviating the wretchedness he may find there. Why then prosecute your benevolent ladies for doing that which you yourselves have so long neglected? Shall we treat our slaves with less compassion than we do the cattle in our fields?

The defendant then made the sacrificial offer committed dissendents always make to the oppressors. Like Thomas More before her and Mahatma Gandhi, after her, she tendered her own body as a sacrifice to justice and a rebuke to tyranny:

But, if otherwise, there are your laws: inforce them to the letter. You may send me, if you so decide, to that cold and gloomy prison. I can be as happy there as I am in my quiet little home: and, in the pursuit of knowledge, and with the resources of a well-stored mind, I shall be, gentlemen, a sufficient companion for myself. Of one consolation you cannot deprive me: I go not as a convicted felon, for I have violated no tittle of anyone of the laws that are imbodied in the Divine Decalogue; I shall be only a single sufferer under the operation of one of the most inhuman and unjust laws that ever digressed the statue books of a civilized community.

The jury tried to solve its moral dilemma by declaring the case a tie: It found Margaret Douglas guilty but confined punishment to a meaningless fine of one dollar. Once again, stupidity intervened to rescue the Commonwealth of Viginina from common sense. Judge Baker refused to brook the jurors' impotent foolishness. After delivery a long bombastic speech on the deprivity of making Negro children literate, he gave himself "no choice": but to sentence the defendant to thirty days in jail.

Margaret Douglas served her time without complaint, and when she finished, she accepted the invitation of the jailer and his wife to stay an extra two days with them. Then she went home to her little house and books.

If an artist were commissioned to paint a portrait of the spirit of the American Constitution, he might paint John Peter Zenger cranking out brave diatribes against the government of New York or James Otis announcing the dawn of the American Revolution in the old Boston court house. If it were left to me I would commission a painting of a well-dressed, middle-aged lady in a shabby barbershop, watching two young Negro boys intently reading spelling books, and touching one of them on the shoulder.

Alfred H. Knight The Life of the Law. New York. Crown Publishers, 1996.

teach peace foundation
Jesus and the Disinherited

Become a Helper of Hearts

Become a helper of hearts, a slave of the deepest spiritual yearnings of others. When you do, springs of wisdom will flow from your heart; you will be a blessing. Your breath will become medicine like the breath of Jesus.

Jalalud'din Rumi

How the Bible helped us read
A Tribute : You Shaped Me
Teaching Literacy (English)
When God Created Teachers
Early America women witness
First Black to Head a College
Black Moses: Martin Luther King
More recently: Septima Clark
Compassion Can it be taught?
You overdue? friends of library
Lovelyish: Sexy Librarian Look
Fanny Wright's interracial ideal
Black Pride long vverdue in U.S.
Let you light shine on da darkside
Black Power good for every body
Jews are the people of the Book
Teachers urge Social Justice
Pax Christi - support the nuns
Laura W. Bush promotes literacy
Sherie Labedis courage in action
here's to My Favorite Teacher

baggage of history
Friends of Diversity

America's Promise Alliance:
When today's 'do-gooders'
America's Promise Alliance
are really doing good

Sarayu tells her protege (the grief-stricken Mack):

Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself - to serve. Humans often do this - in touching the infirm and sick, in serving the ones whose minds have left to wander, in relating to the poor.

From William P. Young's novel The Shack

Care to Visit our Friends

Dangerous Minds
River of Words
Coach cared
one library effort

Cal Books
PacBell k12
Literacy USA

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
Victor Hugo

Email Robert Shepherd
email Robert Shepherd

Robert Shepherd An irony of American history is that in its beginnings, the Republican Party provided an umbrella to what would have to be called the most liberal, activist, socially conscious forms of radicalism. Most of it religiously based, or tinged with transcendental or Quaker influences, and ultimately fueled by the evangelicalism that swept ante-bellum western America. America's ealiest socialist impulses found a home within Republicanism. Lincoln, perhaps historically our most liberal president, was not averse to social ideals, but pursued them. The women's movement was another offspring of Quaker social ethics. In this sense it was largely church women who spear-headed the beginnings of social gospel service ideals, including home missions to the blacks, the freedmen's bureau outreaches, and other outlets of "Negro activism," temperance, the sunday school movement, literacy, urban soup kitchens, city missions prgrams, outreaches to the poor, women's right to vote.

It was later, as corporate industrial capitalism asserted control of the Republican Party, Lincoln liberalism was thrust aside. The "liberal" Teddy Roosevelt was pushed aside by the new conservative Republicanism. WEB Dubois forsaw the fate of his liberal friends within the erstwhile party of Lincoln, and promoted alliance with the emerging agrarian populism and urban liberalism of the Democratic Party, which provided a haven to oppressed immigrants, labor groups, and the first acceptance of urban "machine" politics that was to lead to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King -- and contemporary America's climate of prosperity and inclusion.

baggage of history
Friends of Diversity


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robert zimmer
America's drift toward education for everyone:

Tocqueville lavished praise on the Democracy he saw in New England, with its broad-based system of free education and its all-absorbing impetus toward a pervasive middle-class. While he credited the Yankee religious heritage, he also singled out New England's fetish with educating everyone, boys and girls, throughout their society. For Tocqueville, what he saw in Bible-obsessed New England was a stark contrast to the stratified feudal society of the Old World, with a vast underclass mired in ignorance, poverty and almost total illiteracy.

Colored Freedmen get yankee schoolmarms

Angels of mercy come down from the North
But to local folk, these ladies were intruders (but in petticoats), negro-lovers, unwelcome. No better than carpetbaggers and their black allies -- they sure weren't considered angels

[Lynne Olson]

New England's obsession with universal free education was not typical of every part of the young USA. Lynne Olson writes: In the ante-bellum South, schooling had been considered a privilege, and a privilege belonging to white males almost exclusively. White girls were rarely educated, and it was a crime to teach slaves of either sex to read and write. With the coming of emancipation, the Freedman's Bureau and Northern church-sponsored organizations sent thousands of teachers to the South to start schools for blacks. Voracious for the knowledge long denied them, black children flocked to the schools, spurred on by their parents, mostly their mothers, who saw learning as the gateway to a better life and the first step toward racial equality. When education for blacks was cut back or abolished for blacks after Reconstruction, mothers worked day and night to pay for their children's education. "The men talk about it," wrote Frances Harper, "but the women work most for it." [p41. Freedom's Daughters]

From Kent Steffgen we learn the following.

In the years immediately following Appomatox, there were several philanthropic groups (Ladies "Missionary" endeavors, originating in the North) active in education of Negro freedmen -- including the American Missionary Association, the Freedmen's Aid Society, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, whose ladies home missions society was formed in 1866 in Ohio. That same year, the American Missionary Association sent out 353 teachers. But the appetite to help the poor Negroes was not easily quenched. The movement, if anything, was gaining momentum. In 1868 the American Missionary Association sent 532 more. Would the feminine touch of these Yankee church ladies be able to rescue the Freedmen just emancipated (by the stroke of Lincoln's pen)? The reality was that the whites suffered very greatly, and for the average yeoman farmer, literacy was almost as distant a goal as it was for their dark skinned fellow southerners. There had NEVER been free public (tax-supported) education in the Old South, and the way these Republican carpetbaggers went about imposing it was all wrong. Thus, these do-gooder ladies, with funding from northern churches, liberals, and philanthopists, rushed to "meet a need."

Steffgen notes that the ladies of the American Missionary Association were largely volunteers from the ranks of the Congregational Church. I believe the Quaker Church was also intensely active in this teachers movement, though their ladies worked independently of the other churches. Steffgen also says that the Wesleyan Methodists, the Reformed Dutch Church, and the Free Will Baptists also sent teachers.In 1866 an estimated 1800 teachers were working in about a thousand schools with an approximate enrollment of 90,000 Negroes. By that time, few southern towns lacked Negro schools, though for whites, education -- often even basic literacy -- remained as it always had been, a luxury reserved by and large for upper class whites, the manorial elite so detested by poor white trash like Andrew Johnson, Hinton R. Helper, and a generation earlier -- the folk hero Andy Jackson.

The attitude of the churches was a divisive attitude in the South. It was said that the "lower" denominations (these would include the holy roller or bible thumping type) were all too excessively influenced by the sorts of emotionalistic slave spirituality that de-emphasized theology, all but rejected hierarchy, and tended to see all men as equal before the throne of God. W.E.B. Dubois said the influence of black religion on these low "gospel" churches turned them into a "plain copy" of the slave style of worship, sometimes joyous and vibrant, sometimes poignant, often exuberant, but almost always capable of deep pathos. The decent and orderly denominations clung to their privilege, and scorned the heathenish manifestations of the ruder folk. The old line Episcopalians as well as the Presbyterians in the South seemed less inclined to the seductions of "African" exuberance. The Holy Spirit was a theological concept, not a green light for "wild religion." And there were other whispered concerns.

It was rumored that the religious "promiscuity" of these (what later Americans call) pentecostal type meetings led physical promiscuity as well. Quoting Steffgen, "Methodism preached social equality to such a degree that in the southern mind it became synonymous with the advocacy of racial miscegenation.

It is an oddity of history that, except for this early flurry of philanthropy by these "Angels of Mercy" from northern churches, Reconstruction wound up benefitting poor white southerners more than it did the emancipated Africans. Reconstruction had been designed with the clever Republican agenda of ensuring Republican political control of southern wealth (once the economy could be restored). Instead, the real beneficiary of Reconstruction turned out to be poor whites, who for the first time had public supported access to basic education, had the barriers removed to civic participation, with a significant increase in actual voting. The solid Republican South of Reconstruction became the solid Democratic South once the blacks were dissuaded from voting. Whites indeed resorted to a certain degree of violence, which is perhaps a blotch on the record of post-Republican Dixie. And while the opposing "sides" battled for political gains, the victims were neither one "side" or the other -- the real victims were the children of America. (picture) Both black and white.

History is not always neat and tidy. Those who write its annals are tempted to frame the past in melodramatic terms, with good guys in shining armor and nasty villains lurking in the shadows. In reality, the motives of participants are far from being so clear cut. (At least so claims yours truly, Robert Shepherd).

A popular adage goes,

There's so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly behooves any of us
To judge too harshly the rest of us.


Believing Christians should look upon themselves as such a creative minority and ... espouse once again the best of its heritage, thereby being at the service

of humankind at large.

Christendom's historic prudery (and woman hate)

Modern Angels of Mercy reach out in the Darkness :: saints or sluts

The great civil rights struggle of the twentieth century with its urban renewals and freedom summers, the lunch counters and voter registrations -- represent a historic and lofty transformation in America's history. It has often been said that the white women were ahead of the white men, and indeed we know now that the black women often had to nudge forward the black men (and preachers). See Rosa Parks

Why did women step to the fore -- or in fact have to assume headship in a struggle in which the men had abdicated the headship? All too often the timid responded by attacking the bold. The white "angels of mercy" were labeled sluts -- but then again, "well behaved women seldom make history." See Ida Wells

There enemies were rife, as has happened so many times, and they were labelled sluts, sob sisters, do-gooders, but they were women with a conscience as big, and a compassion as large, as America herself. Their promiscuous compassion offended the threated male elites, but their quiet faith enabled them to step up to the plate where the men themselves were remiss, hiding behind titles and doctrines, privilege and position. The women reached out to the hurting, and tried to lift the self-esteem and self-confidence of the lowly souls they approached, and teach self-improvement to the "lost" sheep that America seemed to wish would go away.

Why did women step up, when the men shrunk back? Malcolm Boyd asked it even as it was happening. White women showed compassion when white men showed only hesitation, cowardice, and compromise with evil. White women understood intuitively that the Negroes of the South (and the cities) only wanted to hold their heads up, to be accepted for their own beauty and worth and manhood. Boyd says: "Saint or slut -- it depends on who you're talking to. She is almost oblivious to both judgments made about her. Middle-class in background, educated in the right schools, she is now living among the poor, sharing their life without reservation. Nothing she could have done would have so outraged her former friends and associates."

Because it isn't "charity" but something real. The paternalism is out of it, the risks in. She hasn't time to daydream about the privileges and luxuries she's left behind. She isn't just putting in hours of "doing good" so that she can go back to the party with proper righteousness. It's not just that she no longer has a fashion plate image in suburbia, she's literally gone over to the other side.

Some of her former friends accuse her of having "gone black" for purposes of sheer sexual lust. She's become a Mandingo girl. Others say she's become a fanatic, a do-gooder gone overboard; they express concern for her future: What will she do? What will become of her? Is she getting back at her father? Trying to save the whole world? Does she want to be a martyr? Or is she just in awe of (and lust for) black male superiority (ie, sexuality, muscularity)

Malcolm Boyd continues: perhaps there is something romantic or unhealthy in her zeal, but over a bowl of soup in a lunch counter she seems quite calm. Tired perhaps -- and despite the depressing stories she has of the conditions of in which people are living all around her, how is it that she conveys such a sense of hope?

VOLUNTEERING: do you believe that one small act of kindness can truly help change someone's world?

Perhaps OUTREACH participation will bless you as well (as change urban lives)

Could you put God first in your life, even ahead of your work? Even ahead of your family? What Margaret Douglas did a century and a half ago (literacy) volunteers today are doing with mentoring and tutoring, with athletics, and even as life coaches for at-risk youth and former gangbangers in the big cities. The harvest is waiting, the laborers are few. If you are willing to let your light shine in the darkness, be a witness to these youth and others tempted by drugs, or caught in a web of drugs and violence, it may be the hardest job you'll ever love. You may find yourself suddenly lifted aloft into the winged life, with rewards far surpassing the challenges. What Phyllis Saroka did in Sunset Park can be repeated over and over again. Phylis was such a little thing (5'2") a "shawty" compared to the BOYZ she reached out to help and coach. In The Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy took a troubled young man under her wing, and inspired him to believe in himself, to see the good in himself. (Sandra Bullock won the academy award for her role.)

Leaving the ninety and nine
And seeking the lost sheep

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd's care.
Away from the tender Shepherd's care.
    Please see the hymn by Elizabeth C. Clephane

sic non est voluntas ante patrem vestrum qui
in caelis est ut pereat unus de pusillis istis

Samuel Jennings
by Samuel Jennings, 1792

Put Children First

black new world order

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the ink is black ~ the page is white ~ together we learn ~ to read and write