Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Susannah J. Ural

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Kyle Zelner

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Max Grivno

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Andrew Haley

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Dr. Patrick A. Lewis


This dissertation examines the establishment of schools for and by formerly enslaved African Americans in Kentucky and Tennessee in the decade after the Civil War, analyzing the different individuals and organizations that supported or opposed those efforts. Members of Black communities strove to secure an education for children and adults while doing everything in their power to maintain control of those schools. Widespread poverty, racism, and uncertain political status necessitated that African Americans accept help from outsiders, especially from teachers and agents sent by the federal government and northern benevolent associations. The central argument is that the ultimate failure to create quality educational opportunities for freedpeople occurred in large part because of deliberate decisions to perpetuate inequality made by groups and individuals tasked with helping Black communities.

This study is primarily focused on advancing two specific subfields of the historiography of the post-Civil War South. First, it builds on the scholarship that interprets emancipation not as a single celebratory event but instead as a process that did not immediately improve the lives of newly freed people. Second, this dissertation builds on the body of work about the education of formerly enslaved African Americans in the former Confederacy. The present study is focused on the Upper South region to uncover specific experiences of emancipation that will contribute to broader understandings of this history. Kentucky and Tennessee, more specifically, offer the chance to examine the experiences of emancipation and early Black education beyond the purview of full-scale Radical Reconstruction, as they were either loyal or already “reconstructed” before federal policies could take effect. Because civil state governments remained in power throughout this period, former Confederates reclaimed political control in both Kentucky and Tennessee by about 1870, therefore significantly limiting the opportunities for racial progress witnessed in the Deep South. As this work demonstrates, however, African American communities made important advancements during the postwar decade by leading the movement for their own education and working to maintain control of their schools to the best of their ability.