Was gaining an education worth the effort for a Black person in the 1890s or early 1900s?

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Whether it was worth the effort for a Black person to gain an education in the 1890s or early 1900s depends on one's ideas about the purpose of education. If education is only about getting a better job and earning more money, it probably was not worth the effort. But if education is about becoming a better person, then it certainly was.

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Black people seeking an education in the late 1800s and early 1900s faced immense obstacles that often seemed insurmountable. Few schools accepted Black students, and those that did may not have been near potential students' homes. Younger students had to walk or find transportation to schools that accepted them, and this might have been impossible at times, especially in bad weather. Students also had to work with their families to earn enough money for their family to live on. Then they had to pay fees to attend classes at higher-level schools, and this, too, might have been impossible. Money was scarce, and education was not necessarily a priority for many people.

However, whether or not getting an education was worth the effort depends on our ideas about the purpose of education. If education is merely about getting a better job and making more money, then perhaps an education was not worth all the effort and sacrifices. Black people were limited in the jobs to which they had access, and many of these could be performed perfectly well without an education. Some employers actually preferred their workers not be educated so they would not be “uppity.”

But if education is about more than just job advancement and wages, if it is really about becoming a person who can think clearly and critically and look at the world in new ways, a person who can love literature and art and appreciate the beauty of the world, a person who is well rounded and free in mind, then, yes, education is well worth the effort. Black people who received an education could embrace a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge and wisdom that education brings. And this is certainly valuable.

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