This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.
In the antebellum South, African Americans were generally prevented from receiving education. During the Civil War, African Americans and northern missionaries established schools in Union-occupied territories. After Appomattox, freedpeople—adults and children alike—flocked to newly founded schools. Attaining an education was both a symbolic step away from slavery and a practical goal: southern blacks quickly realized that the ability to understand labor contracts and other legal documents was critical.
In Richmond, one of the earliest freedmen's schools was established in the eastern end of the city at Chimborazo in June 1865, on the site where the large Confederate hospital had operated just a few weeks before. During reconstruction the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen's Bureau) used its authority over former Confederate properties to provide buildings for schools. The Freedmen's Bureau, missionary associations, and African Americans themselves funded the schools; many of the mostly white, female teachers came south with the missionary groups. The New York Friends' Association supported the Chimborazo School, which had enrolled over three hundred students by November 1865. The register for October 1868 reflected students ranging in age from four to twenty-nine. Chimborazo School became a part of the City of Richmond's newly established school system in 1870.