Date of Award

Fall 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Marten, James

Second Advisor

Foster, Kristen

Third Advisor

Smith, Robert


This dissertation focuses on the ways Baltimore City’s public school system developed in the nineteenth century as it was shaped by Black Baltimorean’s expectations of their children’s schooling. From the beginning of the city’s public school system, established in 1828, Black Baltimoreans advocated for their children’s futures by demanding access to universal, state sponsored education. Black Baltimoreans declared that children had a right to an education that was in sufficient buildings, had appropriate graded curricular choices that would benefit their futures, and were taught by black teachers or those “in sympathy” with them. This dissertation argues that for Black Baltimoreans, schooling was always part of their understanding of civic rights, and they demanded access to it for their children because education was a fundamental right. Beyond training children for their future labor needs, black children would be citizens, and it would be this belief, that justified Black Baltimorean advocacy in the face of Board of School Commissioner inertia. The first two chapters of this dissertation chronicle early black advocacy in the city before the Civil War and the immediate aftermath of the war on the city’s public education system. The remaining three chapters follow the demands made in a series of formal petitions to Baltimore City’s City Council and the Board of School Commissioners. By focusing on these petitions, I center Black Baltimoreans as active/agents/something that shaping the city’s educational systems, rather than merely reactive to Board of School Commissioner choices. Centering the conversation around black educational advocacy proposes an intersection/highlighting of the ways parents envisioned a child’s future beyond their labor capacities. Black and white Baltimoreans made choices that supported the imagined or perceived future black children had in ways that intersected and diverged throughout the nineteenth century.

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