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Barbara Ann Stewart to Frederick Douglass, April 27, 1855


For Frederick Douglass' Paper.


[We call special attention to the following
letter from our friend Miss Stewart, of Canan-
daigua. The information it gives, concerning
the position and prospects of the colored peo-
ple of this country, and the reference it makes
to the importance of the proposed Industries
School, should be well weighed by all: ED.]

Canandaigua, May 29th, 1855.

Mr Douglass:—I was both surprised and
pained to learn, on taking up your paper, that
the INDUSTRIAL COLLEGE had a majority of but
two, and I was mortified to find that men who
were familiar with all the outlines of the pro-
posed plan should oppose it. It seems incred-
ible that they should so far forget the position
we occupy as to do such a thing. We are an
unsettled, unstable people, destitute, in a great
measure, of homes that we can call our own;
looked down upon by our more favored fellow-
men, as ignorant and degraded. Unacquainted
with the mechanical arts, in all the agricultural
fair, while others are hurrying to the place of
exhibition with skilful and ingenious artles to
exhibit, we are unrepresented. Thousands and
thousands of intelligent fathers and mothers,
whose children are as dear to them, as those
of their more white neighbors, lay down upon
their pillow at night, with their minds burdened
with care. What shall I do with my children?
is the uppermost thought. If a porter shop is
to the highest statin in life to which my
son can aspire; the gentleman's kitchen the only
place my daughter can find employment, then
what is the use of educating them? The more
ignorant they are, the better they will be suited
with their condition. And is it not too true?
We see fine intelligent youths of both sexes
illing around in the Spring, waiting for the
boats to run, or the Spring houses to open.
Hundreds of young men, with educations that
might admit them into my office, as clerks, at
good salaries, if they were not so unfortunate
(in the eyes of the world) as to be black, are
found engaed in the most menial employments,
as mere drudges. Their labors are such they
must be kept steadily to work, and when six o'
clock comes they cannot leave off, like other
young men engaged in mechanical employment
and have time at their disposal. They must
keep steady at work till late at night; then
they hurry to the enticing saloon and theatre,
and spend their time in indulging in intoxicating
drinks. And on the Sabbath, it is the same
routine of labor; and when that is done, worn
out and tired, they feel little like entering
churches, and encountering the gaze of persons
who wonder at their impudence in coming; but
will rather ensconse themselves in some snug
corner among their comrades, where the exhil-
iating glass is passed around, and cards close
the scene, and the fourth commandment is brok-
en. Oh! can it be that there are men so trait-
orous to the best interest of their people as to
say we do not want to live differently from
that? "There are places enought now open
where colored youths can learn trades
," some
say. But I should like to have these places
specified more definitely; and if there are work-
shops enough operation terms of perfect equal-
ity, whre all the workmen will instruct a col-
ored boy, irrespective of color, why then I shall
take my stand on the opposing ground too.
And if there are now workshops enough in this
country, where every colored youth can get a
trade, then I am ashamed of my people.


I am daily meeting with those who are en-
tirely ignorant of the plan of the Industrial
College. They think it is merely an institution
where the attention is paid to educating the
head. And almost in anger they will toss their
head and say, "Yes, a fine buisness to think of
my son or daughter going to college, and I in
the washtub." Or, "yes, my boy, I guess has
education enough to black boots and shoes."—
And when I explain to them, (as I always try
to do,) I have seen their eyes sparkle with joy,
they cannot believe it to be true. And yet
men will say that they are opposed to it, when
they have sent forth no lecturers on the sub-
ject. Think you that slavery would be the all-
engrossing subject, as it is if there had been no
Douglasses, Wards, Garnets, bearing on their
own persons the severity of the lash of slavery,
and feeling perhaps too sensitively its degreda-
tion? In any other way of escape than
trades, I have no faith. As to a mere
knowledge of books, I have no faith in it. I do
not say that I undervalue education, for I think
every child should be kept in school till twelve
or fourteen years old, at least. But a mere
knowledge of books, without a trade of some
kind is useless, as the colored people are situat-
ed now. I have spent all my life in educating
my head, and the brightest prospect I have to-
day for the future, and the most advantageous
offer I have ever had, is to sail for Monrovia on
the coast of Africa, in October next. But I
must stop, not for want of wards, but because
I would not trespass on your time.

Yours in the great cause
of our elevation,



Stewart, Barbara Ann


April 27, 1855


Barbara Ann Stewart to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 1 June 1855. Expresses dismay for the lack of support for industrial education and the creation of industrial schools for blacks.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper (Rochester, N.Y.) 1851-18??



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