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Once schooled in Christianity, slave converts participated in regular gatherings at times and places approved by the plantation owner.Not only did African Americans improve their own educational opportunities, but they also helped improve education for whites by challenging the plantation owners’ educational paradigm that schooling happened in the home, and not in public schools.
Plantation missions were part of a greater reform movement to bring about holiness to the whole nation, including to the Negro slave.
To accomplish this, leaders of this movement had to demonstrate to the plantation owners that its religious efforts were not antithetical to slavery.
The efforts to reach African American slaves for Jesus resulted in the “planation missions” movement of the 1830s and 1840s.
African Americans who embraced Christianity became not only church members but also preachers and ministers.
The focus of my research and writing is women’s involvement in higher education, especially women from the Pentecostal and Holiness faith traditions.
While conducting research on African American female seminaries, I found myself reaching back to a very rich yet little-known history of educational efforts by African Americans both during and after slavery.
In 1842, the revolt led by Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, cost the lives of 55 to 65 whites and more than 100 slaves.
Each event led to new restrictions, in the form of anti-literacy laws and punishments for slaves who tried to learn to read and write.
Beverly Jones, a former slave in Virginia, would write: “Always took his text from Ephesians, the white preacher did, the part what said, ‘Obey your masters, be [a] good servant’ …
They always tell the slaves dat ef he be good, an’ worked hard fo’ his master, dat he would go to heaven, an’ der he gonna live a life of ease. You see, they didn’ want slaves to start thinkin’ ‘bout freedom, even in Heaven.” The Second Great Awakening (1790-1840) changed the educational calculus, by putting at the forefront the belief that all men and women from every race were in need of salvation, and that all redeemed individuals were to be “useful” in God’s kingdom.