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American Missionary Association (AMA)

 

What was the American Missionary Association? It was an organization to abolish slavery, to educate Black Americans, to promote racial equality, and to promote Christian Values.

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The American Missionary Association (AMA), was a protestant-based abolitionist group that formed as an institution dedicated to ” the Negro Problem”, aiming to bring about full and equal privileges of citizenship to the black population in the United States during the 19th century, leading into the 20th century. The association was founded on September 3, 1846, in Albany, New York. The Association was chiefly sponsored by the Congregationalist churches in New England, it opened camps throughout the South for freed slaves. AMA established a number of elementary schools, and eventually normal schools and colleges. The normal schools served to educate and train blacks in order to corporate a teaching staff composed of blacks. AMA decided that blacks would furnish their own teachers. The belief held that role of whites served to initially educate blacks and train them, and in time establish and develop their own leaders in an effort to control their own futures.

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By 1864, the colony had more than 2200 residents and both children and adults filled the classrooms. In the several one-room schools, as they were eager to learn whatever curriculum purposed by AMA. The association provided blacks with opportunities they had never experienced before, and granted them the tools necessary to become leaders in the social and political realms of society. The missionary teachers also evangelized and helped provide the limited medical care of the time. While the AMA became notable in the United States with its work in opposition to slavery and support of education for freedmen, it also worked in numerous nation overseas. The 19th century missionary effort was strong in India, China, and East Asia.

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The AMA’s pace of founding schools and colleges increased during and after the war. Freedmen, historically free blacks, and white sympathizers alike believed that education was a priority for the newly freed slaves. Altogether, the AMA founded more than five hundred schools and colleges for the freedmen of the South during and after the Civil War, spending more money for that purpose than the Freedmen’s Bureau of the federal government.

Among the eleven colleges they founded were Berea College and Atlanta University, (1865); Fisk University, (1866); Hampton Institute, (1868) and Tugaloo College, (1869); Dillard University, Talladega College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Huston-Tillotson University, and Avery Normal Institute (1867) (now part of the College of Charleston). Together with the Freedmen’s Bureau, the AMA founded Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1867. In addition, the AMA organized the Freedmen’s Aid Society, which recruited northern teachers for the schools and arranged to find housing for them in the South.

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In the mid-1870s, however, the Association pronounced black suffrage a failure and the freedmen ungrateful for the organization’s many efforts on their behalf. By the 1870s, the AMA national office had relocated to New York City.

Over time, the association became most closely aligned with the Congregational Christian Churches. Most of those congregations have become members of the United Church of Christ (UCC). The AMA maintained its distinct identity until 1999, when a restructuring of the UCC merged it into the Justice and Witness Ministries division.

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