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Freedmen's Schools

"The schools for colored children in Richmond"In the antebellum South, African Americans were generally prevented from receiving education. During the Civil War, African Americans and northern missionaries established schools in Union-occupied territories. After Appomattox, freedpeople—adults and children alike—flocked to newly founded schools. Attaining an education was both a symbolic step away from slavery and a practical goal: southern blacks quickly realized that the ability to understand labor contracts and other legal documents was critical.

In Richmond, one of the earliest freedmen's schools was established in the eastern end of the city at Chimborazo in June 1865, on the site where the large Confederate hospital had operated just a few weeks before. During reconstruction the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen's Bureau) used its authority over former Confederate properties to provide buildings for schools. The Freedmen's Bureau, missionary associations, and African Americans themselves funded the schools; many of the mostly white, female teachers came south with the missionary groups. The New York Friends' Association supported the Chimborazo School, which had enrolled over three hundred students by November 1865. The register for October 1868 reflected students ranging in age from four to twenty-nine. Chimborazo School became a part of the City of Richmond's newly established school system in 1870.

This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

Chimborazo School Register, 1868–69 Enter Fullscreen More information
Chimborazo School Register, 1868–69
The Freedmen's Bureau required teachers to answer a variety of questions on the monthly forms; most missionary groups additionally required narrative reports from teachers on their activities. (VHS call number: Mss4 C442 a)
School Register, Freedmen's School, City Point, Virginia, 1868 Enter Fullscreen More information
School Register, Freedmen's School, City Point, Virginia, 1868
City Point is now known as Hopewell, located on the south side of the James River near Petersburg. (VHS call number: Mss4 F8757 b)
Illustration of Freedman in school from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1883 Enter Fullscreen More information
Illustration of Freedman in school from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1883
White teachers—mostly women—dominated Virginia freedmen's schools during Reconstruction, but African Americans eventually won the opportunity to teach in black schools. (VHS call number: AP2 .F82 o.s.)
Enter Fullscreen More information
St. Philip's Church, Richmond, 1867, in use as a freedmen's school
Churches often doubled as schoolhouses during Reconstruction. St. Philip's Church was established in 1863 and exists today in north Richmond. (VHS accession number: 2001.230.1552)
Chimborazo School Register, 1868–69
Chimborazo School Register, 1868–69
School Register, Freedmen's School, City Point, Virginia, 1868
School Register, Freedmen's School, C
Illustration of Freedman in school from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1883
Illustration of Freedman in school from Fr
St.

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