African American Education

Home Education Unit Plans Emilie Davis's Civil War African American Education

African American Education

The Institute for Colored Youth (ICY) was a Quaker-run secondary school devoted to training African Americans to become teachers. Post-Civil War, Philadelphia’s schools were segregated, leaving African Americans with limited access to education. This explains why, at twenty-four years of age, Emilie Davis took school so seriously, attending classes regardless of the weather and even when her classroom was not heated. This lesson will look at the challenges Emilie, and other African American students, faced when trying to gain an education.

In this lesson, students will learn more about the rigorous education at the Institute for Colored Youth, as well as read primary sources relating to graduates of the Institution. Sources include a poem written about Caroline Le Count, a graduate of the Institute for Colored Youth, a teacher, and an activist in the fight for equal rights. To learn more about the Institute for Colored Youth, visit

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?


Students will be able to:

  • Analyze various sources relating to the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY).
  • Compare and contrast education in the 1860's to education today.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Begin by discussing the challenges African Americans faced racially, financially, and geographically. (Include diary entries from other lessons particularly from election time when Emilie mentions she is afraid something might happen)
  2. Read the excerpts from Emilie’s diaries. What subjects was Emilie learning? Does she seem to have set instruction?
  3. Next, have students look at the articles about the ICY Examinations. When and where do these tests take place? What can we learn about the tests from reading Emilie’s diary? What is expected of the students in order to graduate from the ICY?
  4. To look deeper into the lives of African American students, have students read the poem by R.B. Jones about Caroline Le Count. Jones was from the Ashmun Institute, now Lincoln University. Caroline Le Count graduated top of her class in 1863 at the age of 17. What is the writing style of the poem, and what does it teach us about African American education?
  5. Lastly, have students read the interview by Caroline Le Count from the New National Era published in May 1873. What challenges did Caroline, and other women of color, face with the Women’s Centennial Committee? How much had racism changed in Philadelphia since the Civil War? For further reading on the Women’s Centennial Commission, read