Were You Ever a Colored Boy?
Many textbooks of the era offered a negative view of African Americans. A contributor to the journal of the freedmen, The New National Era, describes a typical black boy's experience at school.
Reader, were you ever a colored boy? Have you ever gone to school and been obliged to walk around a crowd of white boys because they put themselves right in your path, and had "cuff that nigger!" yelled into your ears, and after doing all that one pair of fists could do against half a dozen pairs, were you unmercifully beaten (two or three policemen passing meanwhile) until some old woman came along and rescued you?
Released at length, have you made your appearance just in time to "hold out your hand, sir" for the reception of six or eight stinging blows from a heavy rattan in the hands of a white teacher whose one article of faith was "spare the rod and spoil the child"?
Have you ever studied Smith's Geography with that very worst type of Negro presented in painful contrast to the most perfect of the Caucasian on the opposite page? Have the words "superior to all others," referring to the latter, ever stuck in your throat and defiant pride made you "go down" while some other boy, no more ambitious but less sensitive, "went up"?
Have you ever tased the sweet revenge of sticking pins into the eyes of the soul-driver in the picture of a cotton field at the head of the lesson on Georgia? No! Then you don't know what a jolly experience belongs to nine-tenths of the colored men in this land of liberty.
Excerpt from Dorothy Sterling, ed., Trouble They Seen: The Story of Reconstruction in the Words of African Americans. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.