Noyes Academy of 1835: Destroyed by Segregationists
In a chapter of African-American educational history that has been somewhat, though fortunately not entirely, forgotten, abolitionists formed a short-lived school in Canaan, New Hampshire, near Dartmouth College, in 1835. The school was called Noyes Academy. According to an article in Dartmouth Life, the academy was formed by abolitionists as an integrated school. Though slavery had been abolished in New York in 1827, African-Americans did not generally have access to the type of classical college-preparatory education that white students did. Noyes Academy’s decision to educate an integrated student body was announced in the famous abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. According to the Dartmouth Life article, among the 24 students in Noyes’ first and only class, 14 were African-American. The students included the famous future abolitionist and orator Henry Highland Garnet, who was the first African-American person to deliver a sermon before the U.S. House of Representatives. Another classmate, Thomas Paul, Jr., would go on to become one of Dartmouth’s first African-American graduates in 1841.
Segregationists in the surrounding community quickly started a campaign to discredit and close Noyes Academy. In August of 1835, they brought 90 oxen to destroy the school, beam by beam. The students, many of whom had struggled to arrive at the school at a time when African-Americans were not allowed to travel on many forms of public transportation, had to leave town in the dead of night to escape the angry mobs.
Noyes Academy was not the only private school for African-Americans in the pre-Brown v. Board era. The Watchman Institute, founded in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1908, by William S. Holland, was intended to train African-American students ages 14 and above in academic and industrial work. It was founded on the principles of Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute. The school also educated young people who had gotten in trouble with the authorities, as Holland wanted them to have a chance at rehabilitation rather than going to prison. After a move to North Scituate, Rhode Island, in 1923, the school was continually beset by fires in the 1920s and 1930s. Historians believe the local Ku Klux Klan set these fires, though no arrests were ever made. The school was closed in 1938, though Holland and later others ran a summer camp at the campus until the 1970s.
African-Americans in Private Schools Today
According to an article in the New York Times, the newspaper that owns this site, there are approximately 200,000 African-American students in Catholic schools nationwide. In addition, there are about 400 historically African-American independent schools in the country, educating about 50,000 students. According to NAIS, or the National Association of Independent Schools, 6% of the students at all their member students were African-American in the 2010-2011 school year. In school year 2001-2002, the percentage was 5.4%. Each year, NAIS sponsors a People of Color Conference to, in their words, “provide a safe space for networking and a professional development opportunity for people, who, by virtue of their race or ethnicity, comprise a form of diversity termed ‘people of color’ in independent schools.” NAIS also sponsors a Student Diversity Leadership Conference for students in grades 9-12, which is, in their words, a “multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades nine - 12) from across the U.S. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community.” This conference is a meaningful experience for high school students in independent schools across the country.