Educating the Disfranchised and Disinherited: Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Hampton Institute, 1839-1893
Best remembered as the founder of Hampton Institute and mentor of Booker T. Washington, Samuel Chapman Armstrong played a crucial role in white philanthropy and educational strategies toward nonwhite people in late-nineteenth-century America. Until now, however, there has been no scholarly biography of Armstrong--his story has usually been subsumed within that of his famous protégé. In Educating the Disfranchised and Disinherited, Robert Francis Engs illuminates both Armstrong's life and an important chapter in the history of American race relations.
Armstrong was the son of missionaries to Hawaii, and as Engs makes clear, his early experiences in a multiracial, predominantly non-European society did much to determine his life's work--the uplift of "backward peoples." After attending Williams College, Armstrong commanded black troops in the Civil War and served as a Freedmen's Bureau agent before founding Hampton in 1869. At the institute, he implemented a unique combination of manual labor education and teacher training, creating an educational system that he believed would enable African Americans and other disfranchised peoples to rise gradually toward the level of white civilization.
Recent studies have often blamed Armstrong for "miseducating" an entire generation of African Americans and for Washington's failings as a "race leader." Indeed, as Engs notes, Armstrong's educational designs were paternalistic in the extreme, and in addressing certain audiences, he could sometimes sound like a consummate racist. On the other hand, he frequently expressed a deep devotion to the ultimate equality of African Africans and incorporated the best of his black graduates into the Hampton staff.
Sorting through the complexities and contradictions of Armstrong's character and vision, Engs's masterful biography provides new insights into the failures of emancipation and into the sometimes flawed responses of one heir to antebellum abolition and egalitarian Christianity.
The Author: Robert Francis Engs is associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Freedom's First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia, 1861-1890.
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