Separate Schools for Colored Children

June 27, 1845

Here is a report of a special meeting of the Primary School Committee, to consider “the petition of a number of colored citizens, praying that ‘separate schools for colored children be abolished — and that said children be permitted to attend the schools in their several districts.'” …. The Chairman, Mr. Ingraham, reports that the majority of the committee believes the request was a right of the petitioners….   “But, as the Grammar School Committee had not acted on the subject, therefore,  ‘Resolved That in accordance with the foregoing report, it is inexpedient to grant the prayer of the petitioners.,'”……Some of the discussion immediately centers on the claim by some that separate schools contribute to the “degradation” of the black man below the white.  Rev. W.W.  Patton says: “It is morally wrong to maintain this condition, if it degrades the colored child. The white child looks upon and despises the colored child as of an inferior order of beings, as long as these things continue; this we all know, this we have all experienced.” …….Dr. Charles Phelps argues for the petitioners, pointing out the success of other towns, Salem, New Bedford,  which have previously abandoned separate schools.   “By making a discrimination among the children of our citizens, we aim a blow at one of the fundamental principles of our whole system of Public Schools.”  Phelps:  “It is unlawful for us to exclude these children from the public schools, nothing can make it expedient for us to continue in wrongdoing ….  We might add another step, and yield to prejudice the power to separate the children of the poor and the rich, or the children of the mechanic or the professional man.”

There follows discussion about whether or not there is prejudice in the community.  There is an example given of churches which do not welcome colored people in their pews ….There is reference to a picture of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and there was no objection to a colored man being in that picture; there is reference to the fact that colored and white fought side-by-side in the armies of the revolution.   There is discussion of whether or not colored citizens are satisfied with arrangements for separate schools, to which one response says: “No respectable colored person feels them to be other than a grevious wrong and insult.”   There is an assertion that many colored parents are keeping their children from attending the separate schools “because they would not be degraded”.  Some say that it is a policy “of the majority to quietly hush up this question”….

Finally a vote is taken , and by 55 to 12 the resolution passes.
There follows a letter to Garrison, from H. I. Bowditch, with his personal account of the meeting.