Considering Freedmen’s Schools & the AMA

James’s Plantation School

James’s Plantation School

** I am re-working a personal research project, and I thought I might post some thoughts about my archival findings so far. Enjoy! **

While working through some primary sources recently, I came across an article in Harper’s Weekly that featured educational institutions for Black Americans. Of particular interest to me was James’s Plantation Freedmen’s School in North Carolina.

The school was named after Reverend Horace James, a minister from Massachusetts who served as a chaplain in the Union army. In 1863, General John G. Foster, commander of the North Carolina Department of the Freedmen’s Bureau, appointed Reverend James as “Superintendent of Negro Affairs for the North Carolina District” and tasked him with maintaining the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island.

What struck me about this article in Harper’s Weekly was its description of schooling as “the true foundation of the real social reconstruction of the South.” Conceptualizing education as a means of social and cultural advancement is central to my dissertation, and I am fascinated by depictions of education in Reconstruction Era media. Furthermore, this article features “illustrations of a number of the most prominent of the schools at the South under the control and direction of the American Missionary Association of New York.” The AMA deeply influenced the development of schools for freedpeople. The organization helped educate hundreds of former slaves, but it was also a proponent of the Northern savior myth which completely ignored the contributions of Blacks in the dismantling of slavery. In fact, the article in question begins with an iteration of this myth: “When the North gave freedom to the slaves of the South it saw the necessity of giving them also the education which was necessary to their proper appreciation and employment of their liberty…The North did its duty; the schoolmaster followed the flag wherever it went…” The implication here is that newly freed slaves needed the assistance of Union soldiers and Northern schoolteachers to properly appreciate freedom, as if Black Americans had not yearned for, fought for, and died for freedom since first arriving to North America. By positioning the North as the gracious liberator to helpless, childlike hordes of African Americans, the work of Black abolitionists and educators is obscured.

“The Freedmen’s Schools,” Harper’s Weekly, October 3, 1868

“The Freedmen’s Schools,” Harper’s Weekly, October 3, 1868

In light of this idea, I’m very interested in the ways that the AMA is used to legitimize Black schools after the Civil War. Though the AMA-related institutions featured in this Harper’s Weekly article certainly did admirable work, I grow increasingly curious about less-recognized methods of education among freedpeople. African Americans were learning to read well before the AMA and the Freedmen’s Bureau were created, and they continued to educate themselves after Reconstruction ended. However, in so many newspaper and magazine articles of the day, sites of learning were not recognized unless the AMA or Freedmen’s Bureau sanctioned them. The acknowledgement of Black self-education would raise questions about Black agency, and over the course of my dissertation process, I hope to unravel the tensions around this agency as they were manifested from the Reconstruction Era through the Jim Crow Era.

Harper’s Weekly Sketch of James’s School

Harper’s Weekly Sketch of James’s School

Historic Texas Courthouses in Popular Movies

Temperatures are dropping, and it’s dark by 5:30 pm. It’s the perfect time of year to curl up on the couch with snacks and hot chocolate and catch up on classic movies. (Don’t forget to exercise between those movies, though!) Being a lover of history, I enjoy finding cool old buildings in my favorite films, and Texas courthouses are an underappreciated part of popular movie productions. These buildings offer a glimpse into the wild, quirky past of my home state, and they are also great examples various architecture styles. I’m going to show them a little love here as I walk through some of my favorite wintertime movies.  

Click through the slideshow for more!

Happy National Family History Month!

Happy Family History Month.jpg

Hello Everyone!

October is recognized as Family History Month, and it’s a really special time of year here at Lynnfield Historical Consulting (LHC). The holidays will be here soon, and since families are often together a little more between October and December, this is a great time of year to plan oral history recordings, preservation lessons, and genealogy projects.

There are lots of ways that LHC can help you organize and record your family history. In addition to individualized genealogy portfolios, I can help you create cookbooks to preserve family recipes, record videos of elders telling their life stories, and much more.

There will be a special discount given to new clients for the month of October in honor of Family History Month. If you have any questions about anything, feel free to contact me. I would love to speak with you!

Black Americans in the Revolutionary Period

It's the Fourth of July, so it's a great day to revisit some of the people who influenced the Revolutionary Period. I encourage you to read more about the figures mentioned in the presentation below. There are many articles and books about them. If you are interested in Northern and Southern perspectives of the early United States, I recommend these books:


Black History Month is Almost Here!


We are just a few days away from Black History Month 2018. I am so excited to connect with new clients and to continue advocating for history education in my local community. 

I'm glad to have 2017 behind us. We've gotten past Hurricane Harvey and the hectic holiday season. As we hit our stride in the new year, I want to encourage everyone to connect with their elders in preparation for February's celebrations. Here are two questions that can help open a fun dialogue:

  1. What was a fad or trend from your youth? Did your parents give you grief about certain clothes or hairstyles you wanted to wear, or music you wanted to listen to?
  2. Are there any stories about famous (or infamous) relatives in our family? 

You might learn that your great-aunt once danced on Soul Train in glittery bellbottoms. Or maybe you have a cousin whose dinner date with Lloyd Hall inspired his work in food preservation. With all of the stressful things going on in the world, it can be calming and inspirational to gain some perspective about the lives of people who have been here much longer than we have. 

While you are learning about your family, keep Lynnfield in mind for your summer family reunion planning. Family reunions are perfect opportunities to collect genealogical material. I will help craft a multimedia package and conduct research on your family tree. Clients receive a comprehensive family history dossier. It's never too early to begin planning, so send me a message to get started! I look forward to helping you "Unlock Your Legacy."

Finding Female Ancestors

Finding Female Ancestors

Happy Women's History Month! Let's take a moment to think about a major issue in genealogy: finding our female ancestors. We all know that women are just as important as men in genealogical research, but records are strongly skewed toward men. How can we address this disparity?

In practically any family history project, you will encounter a brick wall with a woman on your pedigree chart. Because of traditional surname changes, tracing women in our family trees can be much more difficult than tracing men. Lost maiden names and remarriages can pose challenges, but often, with a bit of dedication these challenges can be overcome.

The erasure of women in historical records has long been a problem in the field of genealogy. After the 20th century Women's Rights Movement, this is slowly changing. Women's roles in history are celebrated more, and consequently, our female relatives are recorded more. As women have moved into the public sphere more - purchasing land, maintaining bank accounts, running businesses, and entering into legal contracts - it has become easier to fill in gaps in our family trees. Nevertheless, tracing women in history still presents certain difficulties, but you shouldn't give up!

Although there's no magic trick for completing family trees, Lynnfield can help you find connections that lead to the missing women in your project. Contact us for a consultation to get started!


BHM 2017 - Jessie Redmon Fauset

A huge part of what we do here at Lynnfield is uncovering people that have fallen to the wayside in historical records. History is not as unchanging as you may think.  Finding new stories and new interpretations of old stories keeps things fresh. One Harlem Renaissance writer is a perfect example of this idea.

Many of us read Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school. She was integral to the Harlem Renaissance, but she was not the only woman to contribute her literary talents to the movement. Jessie Redmon Fauset was another talented writer of this era. The New Yorker recently published a piece on her work. Read it for some perspective on some of the issues prevalent in the lives of Harlem Renaissance writers and activists.

Further Reading

In the meantime, Lynnfield wishes you a Happy Black History Month! We have just a week to go. We hope you've learned some new things during the last few weeks.


BHM 2017 - Freedom Colonies


We are nearing the halfway point of Black History Month 2017. I've had a few questions from people who are interested in genealogy based in historically Black communities. This is a fascinating topic! In recent years, we have seen several archeological discoveries that have taught us more about Black communities of the nineteenth century, called freedom colonies.

Freedom colonies were located across the country. Some, like Nicodemus, Kansas, were positioned outside white communities, and were completely self-sufficient towns. Others were sizeable neighborhoods within larger cities, like Seneca Village in NYC.

If you are in Texas, you might want to read Thad Sitton's and James Conrad's Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow. It is a good starting place for anyone interested in Texas family histories, regardless of race.

If you have ancestors who lived in a freedom colony, this may be a great advantage for your genealogical research. Many of these communities now have a centralized historic society or records maintained by public parks or libraries. Contact Lynnfield if you need assistance getting started, or if you've hit a wall in your research. We are here to help!

BHM 2017 - Ida B. Wells

It is a special time here at Lynnfield. The new year is well underway, new projects are in the works, and we are steadily growing. Black History Month is a time for reflecting upon and celebrating the legacies of our families as well as well-known Black people across the Diaspora.

With everything happening in our world right now, I wanted to highlight the work of Ida B. Wells this month. She is the woman featured on our "Happy Black History Month" ad. Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) is probably most known for her work as a journalist and newspaper editor, but she was active in many arenas. She was a feminist, suffragist, and civil rights activist who help establish the NAACP in 1909. In 1884, she refused to give up her seat on a train, which resulted in a highly publicized court case. This event, along with many others, inspired her career as an investigative journalist. Her work was crucial in documenting lynchings in the United States.

I encourage you to read about her. Two great places to start are Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings and To Tell the Truth Freely by Mia Bay. You will also want to check out two of Wells' best-known works, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases and The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States. Ida B. Wells reminds us of the importance of truth-telling, journalistic integrity, and the power of information.

Happy Black History Month! As always, if you have any questions about your own history-related projects, genealogy or otherwise, contact us!

Ida B. Wells-Barnett with her four children.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett with her four children.