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Freedom teachers: Northern White women teaching in southern Black communities, 1860s and 1960s

Judith Collings Hudson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In the 1860s in the aftermath of the Civil War and in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement, northern White teachers, mostly women, went South to teach in Black communities. This study examines the experiences of White teachers living and teaching in southern Black communities during these two historic periods. Their stories reveal their motivations to teach in the South as well as their reasons for becoming teachers. The teachers in the 1960s cohort also identify the impact of their experience on their teaching practice when they returned to the North. ^ For the 1860s, five lengthy, first-person accounts provided the lens through which to view the experiences of White teachers in the South. Secondary sources supplemented first person accounts. For the 1960s, twelve teachers who taught in Mississippi Freedom Schools during the tumultuous summer of 1964, volunteered to be interviewed. A single template provided the framework to interrogate historical and living witnesses, though there are obvious limitations to interrogating historical texts. Library and archival resources provided the context for sponsoring organizations. In the 1860s, White educators were leaders in the missionary societies which sponsored the teachers. In the 1960s, Black leadership in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee extended the invitation for northern Whites to go to Mississippi. ^ The findings reveal that experiences of cultural immersion in the South challenged White teachers' stereotypes of Black people, exposed the nature of racial and economic oppression in the United States, and complicated the teachers' understanding of themselves as White people. Their experiences illustrate the importance of teachers' extending themselves beyond the classroom to meet students and families in their own communities. The Freedom School teachers returned to the North with new pedagogical strategies, an expanded knowledge base of Black history, and a deepened commitment to social justice in schools and in the nation. Their stories provide inspiration and insight into cross-cultural, interracial teaching that can inform today's White teachers striving to develop an anti-racist teaching practice. ^

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Education history|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Hudson, Judith Collings, "Freedom teachers: Northern White women teaching in southern Black communities, 1860s and 1960s" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3012138.