Report of Rev. Charles Lowe to the Committee on Teachers Somerville December 7, 1863
Letters from Teachers
REPORT OF REV. CHARLES LOWE TO THE COMMITTEE ON TEACHERS. SOMERVILLE, DEC. 7th, 1863.
MY DEAR SIR,-It gives me great pleasure to present, at your request, a statement of the impression made upon my mind by a visit to the field of operations of the Educational Commission for Freedmen, in the department of South Carolina. I had an opportunity to visit many of the schools and plantations on Port Royal, St. Helena and Ladies Islands, and to converse with many who were familiar with the condition of the freed population, and will state as briefly as I can the result of my observation.
First, As to the Schools.
In the immediate vicinity of Beaufort the teachers labor at great disadvantage. The town is an aggregate of Government offices, hospitals and camps. An excessive population of freed people has congregated there, and they are exposed to all the bad influences of such a community. The effect is seen in the Schools, in a want of punctuality and in a restless spirit on the part of the children. Yet even in these Schools the success of the attempt was very gratifying. The children seemed bright and eager to learn, and showed remarkable proficiency. Here, as indeed in all the Schools I visited I was greatly struck by the excellence of the teachers employed. In one of the Schools in Beaufort, there was acting as an assistant, a young colored man-formerly a member of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, and disabled at Wagner. He was teaching some of the classes, and as I watched him I thought he was teaching very successfully. Certainly he had the perfect respect and attention of the pupils, and it seemed to me that such men might be thus employed to advantage, more frequently than they are.
As you go away from Beaufort, the bad influences of that place gradually lessen, till, on the plantations ten miles distant, the people are quite out of their reach, and the consequence was very apparent. Here, with no better teachers (for where all are so good I could not recognize any difference), the discipline of the Schools was greatly superior, and their whole character compared favorably with that of any of our Northern Schools of the same grade.
Second, As regards the ability of the freed people to support and govern themselves, my impressions are equally favorable. Here again. Beaufort and its immediate vicinity affords a most unfavorable condition for the experiment. And many visitors, judging from what they see there, may give unfair statements in regard to its success. The place, as I have already said, has just the effect, on the people gathered there, that a prolonged muster-field would have on a great mass of people who might crowd about it. Considering this, it was a matter of surprise to me that things are no worse. There is no disorder, and a Quarter-Master, who has occasion to employ a very large number of the men, told me that he never had so little difficulty with laborers. On Thanksgiving day they were all discharged for a holiday, and he said to me that, whereas, with white men, he should be dreading trouble from their absence or disorderly conduct the next morning after the day's carousing, he was sure that these men would all be promptly at their work.
On the plantations removed from the camps the condition of things is most gratifying. The people labor well, and are easily managed. and the superintendents say are always ready to do anything that you can persuade them is for their advantage.
I will not anticipate the statements which are being prepared by one gentleman there (Mr. E. S. Philbrick), in which will show conclusively the satisfactoriness of their voluntary paid labor so far as the employers are concerned. My only purpose is to testify, as a casual observer, to the good order, the respectful demeanor and thrifty appearance of the colored population, and the general evidence which such a visit could give of a good state of things.
One thing particularly impressed me. I saw the people everywhere in their homes and in the fields. I have seen the working classes in many countries of the world, and I never saw a peasantry so cleanly dressed, so respectable in their outward appearance or apparently so happy. This is certain in regard to these people-that they are abundantly able to support themselves. If your organization has made any mistake, it has been that you felt at first too little confident of that, and assumed that they must be helped by donations in charity. Undoubtedly there was, for a while, much destitution; and your relief was most timely; but the generosity of the supply encouraged a feeling that they could live without labor, which has been one of the great difficulties to overcome. They certainly need help no longer. I saw them at the stores kept on the Islands, buying, with plenty of money, every variety of articles, and heard of no want.
A paymaster told me that, under the order of General Saxton, permitting them to apply for lands hereafter to be sold, the sum of $4000 has already been deposited by freedmen. One man is now owner of the plantation of his former master, which he purchased with money loaned him, and which he has now paid for by the earnings of this year's crop
What interested me most in what I saw, was the conviction, that here is being worked out the problem of whether the black race is fitted for freedom. In many respects the circumstances in this locality are such as to make the experiment peculiarly satisfactory. 1st, The colored people on these Islands are admitted to be inferior to those in most portions of the South, partly because kept more degraded, and partly because close intermarrying has caused them to deteriorate. 2dly, After being left by their masters, they lived for a time under no kind of restraint. And 3dly, By a well meant generosity, when first visited by our sympathy they were encouraged to believe that they could live under freedom without the necessity of labor.
Yet, under all these disadvantages, the experiment has been a triumphant success - apparent, beyond question, to any one who can observe.
To be sure, it can probably never happen that on any general scale, those who shall give to the newly freed people their first instructions in freedom, shall be men and women of such high character and ability as those who have undertaken it here. I was amazed when I saw among the teachers and superintendents so many persons of the very highest culture, and fitted for the very highest positions. I confess I felt sometimes as though it was lavishing too much on this work; but then I considered (what is now the great feeling with which I regard the whole thing) that this is a grand experiment which is settling for the whole nation this great problem. And when I saw how completely it has settled it, I felt that it was worthy of all that had been given. I believe that the importance of the movement is yet to be realized when the operations on this field shall become the great example for every part of the land.
I am, with great respect, very truly yours, CHARLES LOWE. Dr. LeBaron Russell, Boston.