"Be it further enacted; That all persons who shall teach, or permit or cause to be taught, any slave in this state, to read or write, shall, on conviction thereof, before any court of competent jurisdiction be imprisoned not less than one month nor more than twelve months."

[Louisiana, Acts, 1830]

Though Louisiana laws such as this prohibited the education of slaves, enslaved women, men and children did find a way to learn. They learned trades and skills from their masters or from the individuals to whom their services were sometimes hired. They learned from relatives, friends and neighbors how to survive the rigors of their condition. They learned religion from the spiritual leaders in the slave community.

Many free black children were educated in private schools established by the local Creole of Color community. Families often sent their older children to France for educational opportunities not available to them in the Crescent City. Less affluent free black children learned useful crafts and occupations through apprenticeship to master artisans and professionals.

The Civil War, of course, changed just about everything about the way that African Americans existed in New Orleans and the rest of the South. Federal soldiers, and later the Freedmen's Bureau, opened schools for the practical education of the former slaves. In 1867 the city's public school system opened its doors to black children, though on a segregated basis. For many years the "colored" schools made do with less support than was received by their white counterparts. But African Americans still managed to learn, and soon several universities were established to serve their advancing educational needs.

Learning opportunities continued to be available outside of the formal educational system. Church schools were always an important source of both moral and practical instruction. During the years of the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration (WPA) offered a number of training programs for African American New Orleanians. The Housing Authority of New Orleans, along with other governmental agencies, presented a variety of learning opportunities.

This exhibit offers a glimpse into the history of African American education and learning in the Crescent City. It makes use of original and published materials from the City Archives and other Louisiana Division collections. Archivist Wayne Everard designed and mounted the exhibit. Ridgway's Inc. provided reprographic services and lamination was provided by Robert Baxter and Charles Delong of NOPL's Duplications staff. The exhibit will remain on view through March 9.

The online exhibit offers a selection of images from the larger exhibit on view in the Louisiana Division. To read captions for images not included in the online version, CLICK HERE.

Click on the images below to view a larger version and the accompanying caption.

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