African Free School of New York

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The African Free School was an institution founded in New York, by members of the New York Manumission Society, a group of European white American men most of whom were wealthy and held influential positions in society, including John Jay (December 12, 1745 – May 17, 1829) founder of the New York Manumission Society, 2nd Governor of New York, signer of the treaty of Paris and the first Chief of Justice of the United States, Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804), one of the founding fathers of the United States, and Chief staff that aide to United States 1st President George Washington (February 11, 1731 – December 14, 1799), the founder of the nations financial system, 1st United States Secretary of Treasury, and one of the most influential interpreters and promoters of the U.S. Constitution.

At a time when slavery was crucial to the prosperity and expansion of New York, the New York African School was created to provide education to children of slaves and free people of color. The school was established in 1794, the first school was a one-room school house that held about 40 students. The Manumission Society originally hired white teachers, but as the school start to gain notoriety they employed black teachers as well. In the school early stages it was supported by donations from New York poorest residents. In 1809 the Society hired Charles Andrews, and Englishman, to teach the school. Andrews was committed to the idea that his black students were just as bright, and most even brighter than their white counterparts. Andrews utilized the methods of Joseph Lancaster (November 25, 1778 – October 23, 1838) an English Quaker and public educator innovator, whose system employed student assistants or “monitors,” permitting a single teacher to conduct classes as large as several hundred.

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Under Andrews leadership the institution grew significantly, moving to a new building on Williams street in 1815, and five years later an even bigger facility was opened on Mulberry St, near Grand. By this time enrollment was approached about 700. The school were gaining a wide reputation for success and became a frequent stopping point for visitors to the city. In the early 1830s, after opening other school with enrollment surpassing a thousand children, a crisis unfolded when Andrews publicly advocated his idea that American Blacks should be colonized in Africa. Black students and their parents boycotted the schools, leading to Andrews’ dismissal in 1832. This was one of the period’s most controversial racial issues. After Andrews dismissal the school trustees begin hiring of Black teachers to replace White teachers in each of the city’s African Free Schools. By 1835, The African Free Schools had seven buildings in different neighborhoods and the African Free Schools ended their run as privately supported institutions, was absorbed into New York City public school system in the same year.

The school had educated thousands of Black children, a number of whom went on to become well known in the United States and Europe, such as Ira Fredrick , Aldridge (July 24, 1807 – August 7, 1867), was an American and later British stage actor and playwright. James McCune Smith (April 18, 1813 – November 17, 1865), was an American physician, apothecary, abolitionist, and author. Charles Lewis Reason or Rison (July 21, 1818 – August 16, 1893,) was a mathematician, linguist, and educator. Alexander Crummell (March 3, 1819 – September 10, 1898), was a pioneering African-American minister, academic, and Black nationalist, Henry Highland Garnet (December 23, 1815 – February 13, 1882) was an Black American abolitionist, minister, educator and orator. Just to name a few.