Tag Archives: African American Education

Digging Into Data: African American Education and Self-perceptions in Postbellum America

Going through the data compiled from the “Information Wanted” advertisements in The Christian Recorder, I wanted to explore the hidden messages behind a wealth of variables and numbers. Having investigated the history of African American Education before and after the antebellum period in my digital article, I narrowed down the research topic as to the possible positive correlation between the increasing number of advertisers and the expanding of schools for African Americans after the end of the Civil War.

According to a timeline made by University of Michigan for the education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007, only 10% of African Americans had the basic reading and writing skills in 1865, while the literacy rate of this ethnic group increased to 19%  in 1870. Compared to white Americans whose literacy rate amounted to 92.5% in 1870, African Americans still lagged far behind. Nevertheless, given the staggering number of illiterates, they made great strides in education, almost doubling the literacy rate within 5 years after the end of the Civil War. After a preliminary review of the 700-cell Excel spreadsheet transcribed by the class, I found that there are concurrent trends between the growing number of people who placed the “Information Wanted” ads in the Christian Recorder and the rising number of black schools among the locations of these advertisers from 1863 to 1869. The coincidence of these upward trends piqued my curiosity. Therefore, in this project I decided to uncover several factors that might explain this coincidence.

Descriptions of Primary Source 

The Christian Recorder, the oldest existing black periodical in America, has been fervently provided a voice for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) and black Americans since its first publication in July 1, 1852. Although it focused on religious news, it also addressed various secular issues about the black community, especially about family reunion, justice, equal rights, and education. For example, The Christian Recorder held an exclusive section dedicated for posting “Information Wanted” ads , from which African Americans could request information about the whereabouts of their missing loved family members by paying a small amount of money.

The Christian Recorder, April 28, 1866 issue.

The Christian Recorder, April 28, 1866 issue.

In Digital History Summer 2014 class at Villanova University , the class collaborated with the instructor, Ms. Deborah Boyer, to garner data from the “Information Wanted” ads in The Christian Recorder (covering periodical issues from December 26, 1863 to June 12, 1869). This project was quite impressive: we organized target information and placed data into an Excel spreadsheet. This grand Excel spreadsheet became my primary database: it has 700 columns (values) and 42 rows (valuables).

Research Methodology

  • Selecting Databases.To examine relationships between the number of advertisers to The Christian Recorder and the growth of black schools, I decided to use 3 databases for my project. They are: 1 ) the Excel spreadsheet containing data transcribed from “Information Wanted” Ads in The Christian Recorder; 2) List of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU);  and, 3) A Timeline for the Education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007.
  • Selecting Mapping Tools. I used Google Maps Engine Pro to create two maps: Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans from 1800 to 1864  and  Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans from 1865 to 1870.
  • Organizing Data. 
  • 1) Time Scope: the first map includes ads from December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865; the second map includes ads from April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869. As it is widely accepted, the end of the Civil War is marked by the date of April 9, 1865. On that day, Confederate General Robert.E. Lee surrendered his troops to Ulysses Grant at the Appomattox court house in Virginia. 
  • 2) Valuables Selection: Since I focused on the  locations of the advertisers, I only selected 10 valuables: Item_Number, Year, Date, Advertiser_ Full Name (I merged Advertiser’s first name, middle name, and last time into one column), Advertiser_Gender, Advertiser_Address, Advertiser_City, Advertiser_County, Advertiser_State, and Advertiser_Country. More importantly, I did not select the advertisers’ mailing addresses because sometimes they were different from the home addresses, and it would lead to misleading information when visualizing data.
  • 3): Paring Down Invalid Information: I first deleted all rows related to the same advertiser who placed ads several times. For example, Mary Dickerson placed ads to look for her 4 sons and 1 daughter (in the original Excel spreadsheet, it had 5 rows related to Mary Dickerson). However, it is redundant to map Mary Dickerson’s address 5 times. I then deleted any rows that did not specify advertisers’ states (except a few advertisers who lived in West Canada or Canada). For example, in Item_Number 72081, Fannie Robinson had no information about her address, city, state and country, so I deleted the entire row. To sum up, I whittled down data and had two separate new Excel Spreadsheets in good shape: “Wartime Advertisers” has 10 rows, 8 columns; “Postwar Advertisers” has 10 rows, 141 columns.
  • 4) Combining other Databases: I transcribed information from  List of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU); and A Timeline for the Education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007 to two separate Excel Spreadsheets: Black Schools established between 1800 and 1864, and Black Schools established between 1865 and 1870.

Discussion

I envision that the advertisers’ geographic distribution might reflect the progress in literacy and positive self-perceptions within African American community during the late 19th century. To prove this hypothesis, I aimed to find out answers to the following questions: what are the demographics of the advertisers during the wartime and the postbellum period? What does the disparity of number of advertisers and schools indicate? Since The Christian Recorder was printed in Philadelphia, how did advertisers who lived outside of Pennsylvania hear about this periodical? Were there any Churches or facilities existent  in the African American community that help them contact The Christian Recorder?

The following are two maps that show African American men and women who placed “Information Wanted” advertisements in The Christian Recorder between December 1863 to June 1869; and the African American schools established between 1800 and 1870.

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1800 and 1864

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African American built from 1800 to 1864   Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1800 and 1864 Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1865 and 1870

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African American built from 1865 to 1870  Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1865 to 1870 Copy Right: Shasha He

As shown from the above two maps, I made two bold arguments.

Argument 1: The growing number of advertisers in the postbellum period (after April 9, 1865) reflects more African Americans had access to The Christian Recorder; More importantly, to request information about their missing  loved ones, the advertisers may have basic literacy skills like clarifying names, locations, and backgrounds through either writing or oral forms (told editors, priests, staff at The Christian Recorder, and so on).

Regarding the number of advertisers and schools, they both show trends on the upswing. Between December 1863 and February 1865, a span of 1.2 years, only 8 advertisers with clear-cut home addresses (at least include the information of state) appeared in the data set. In stark contrast, between April 1865 to June 1869, a span of 4.2 years, there are altogether 142 advertisers with determinable residence addresses. That is to say, the number of registered advertisers increased 17.6 times by the first half of 1869. As for the number of schools, between 1800 and 1864, a span of 64 years, only 15 schools with determinable information established for black Africans. After the end of the Civil War, schools for African Americans started to sprout. Between 1865 to 1870, a span of 5 years, 27 listed schools were established for African Americans.

With this in mind, I argue that the growing number of advertisers between 1865 and 1869 may suggest more African Americans grasped the basic literacy skills. During the antebellum period, the slave states strictly restricted back slaves’ education.By the end of the 1830’s most Southern states has passed laws banning teaching reading and writing to African Americans. Whatever education a black African received during the antebellum period was probably the result of occasional instruction by a benevolent slave master or other individual groups. The nearest resemblance to formal education did not begin until the first decades of the 18th century, when a handful of public-spirited churchmen and pioneer educators such as Anthony Benezet established small schools for black freemen in cities such as New York, Philadelphia. From the first map, I found that  from 1800 to 1864, the majority of schools for black Africans were in Pennsylvania. While as the second map showed, between 1865 and 1870, the most traditional slave states including South Carolina (6), North Carolina (5), Mississippi (3), Louisiana (2), Georgia (2), and Alabama (2) established schools for African Americans (the numbers stand for the number of schools) .

The Slaves States and Free States in 1861  Map taken from wiki

The Slaves States and Free States in 1861 Map taken from wiki

Under this circumstance, two possibilities might exist: with more African Americans receiving education, the media such as newspapers, periodicals, and newsletters began reaching out to the African American community. Moreover, when requesting information of their beloved relatives, the advertisers may at least 1) heard about the Christian Recorder; and 2) they were able to either write down or narrate information to the Christian Recorder. If these two possibilities hold truth, a positive correction between the number of advertisers and literacy rate of African Americans in the late 19th century would have supportive evidence. However, to further support my argument, I need to examine other contributing factors such as the total number of African American population in each state, the teaching qualities, and so forth.

Argument 2: The act of placing ads indicates advertisers actively identified and turned to sources of interpersonal support in and outside of the African American community.

The influx of advertisers after the Civil War can also suggest three aspects: 1) African Americans started to searched for sources of support; 2) advertisers consciously knew that they wanted to “reconstruct” their family and life by looking for their lost relatives. In other words, their self-perceptions of themselves and the postwar America were enhanced; and 3) more institutions/ groups/ individuals were willing to help African Americans. Noticeable examples are that many advertisers registered mailing addresses when placing the ads. Many mailing addresses were entirely different from their residence addresses, indicating that someone were willing to notify the advertisers the updated information about their lost relatives.

Regarding the geographical information, I found that during the wartime (December 1863-February 1865), the few advertisers lived in free states. The sole exception, Rachel Shepherd, lived in Portsmouth, Virginia. This place was under the control of Union States in 1862, however. From the second map, I saw a greater geographical diversity among the advertisers. Because the Christian Recorder was printed in Philadelphia, the majority of advertisers still lived with Northern states. However, I also saw advertisers writing from former Confederate States, including North Carolina (6), Louisiana (4), Georgia (3), Virginia (10), Tennessee (1), Florida (1), and Mississippi (1). Furthermore, there were advertisers writing from even California or Canada, far away from Philadelphia (the numbers after each state stand for the number of advertisers).

Map of Union States and Confederate States before and during the Civil War

Map of Union States and Confederate States before and during the Civil War

These findings lead to a series of new questions: why so many African Americans came to Pennsylvania? Similarly, why so many former slaves ended up in the Midwest while others migrated to California or even Canada? How did the people who lived far from Pennsylvania hear about  the Christian Recorder? Or, does the spread of A.M.E explain the popularity of The Christian Recorder? Unfortunately, the Information Wanted ads do not reveal such information. Therefore, further research should be done in order to provide in-depth answers to these questions.

Further Research 

Since Google Maps Engine Pro couldn’t help me the figure out all of the hidden messages in the “Information Wanted” Ads, I decided to combine other visualization tools.

As for further exploring the possible correlations between the increasing number of advertisers and the progress in literacy and positive self-perceptions within African American community, I think text mining is the another feasible solution. In this project, I used Wordle to do the text mining and analysis of the “Information Wanted” Ads.

  • Databased and Data Organization

The primary database is still the Excel spreadsheet containing data transcribed from “Information Wanted” Ads in The Christian Recorder (covering periodical issues from December 26, 1863 to June 12, 1869). As for the time scope, I did the same thing with the previous research: the first text mining includes ads from December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865; the second text mining includes ads from April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869. In this part of research, I focused on “text” instead of “geographics”. Therefore, the valuables that I selected were Advertiser Relationship to Searchee, Searchee Relationship to Advertiser, and Reason for Separation. I did not include “Notes” because they contain many names of either the advertisers or the searchees, which would be irrelevant to the text analysis.

  • Text Visualization and Analysis 

For the text mining related to the wartime ads (December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865), here is the text visualization:

Wordle: Wartime Text Mining for the Information Wanted Ads

For the text mining related to the postwar period ads (April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869), here is the text visualization:

Wordle: Text Mining and Analysis related to the postward ads from the Christian Recorder

During the wartime period, the primary concern behind a family disruption was “Military Service”, which is understandable. During the postwar period, words that dominated the “Information Wanted” Ads were “owner”, “owned”, “belonged”, and “sold”. The two text visualizations suggest that almost 5 years after the end of the Civil War, the advertisers still had negative self-perceptions: they kept unconsciously reminding themselves of their slavery past.

Conclusion

Through using Google Maps Engine Pro and Wordle, I attempted to explore possible positive correlation between the increasing number of advertisers (spread all over the United States) and the rising literacy rate and enhanced self-esteem within the African American community. Through these project, I realized that by using only single tool, such as mapping tool, is unlikely to accomplish a satisfactory historical project. Many questions left unsolved, yet new questions keep popping up. The optimal way is to resourcefully combing various digital tools such as digital storytelling, mapping, GIS, timeline, text mining and so on.