Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sarah Ellis Wilson, Worcester teacher (and why Worcester wasn't part Morgan v. Hennigan)

image from First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality
in Worcester, Massachusetts. 1862-1900
From First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts. 1862-1900 by Janette Thomas Greenwood:
Graduating from Classical High School in Worcester, the city's premier public high school, Sarah Ella Willis [whose parents, who had been enslaved, migrated to Worcester from Virginia after the Civil War] entered Worcester Normal School and graduated in 1894. She subsequently became a beloved teacher in the city's public schools and taught first grade for forty-nine years at the Belmont Street Elementary School. One of first African-Americans hired in the Worcester school system, Wilson was a pioneer, mentor, and role model to countless children, regardless of race or ethnicity.
I had heard of Ms. Willis in passing before, but I did not realize how close her family was to slavery, nor that she herself had attended Classical High. This is history we should know better.

I read Greenwood's book in hopes of discovering why it was that, while Springfield was included in the Morgan v. Hennigan decision (the Boston bussing decision), Worcester was not. Worcester's Black population is and has been much smaller than that of Springfield's or Boston's, but I haven't known enough Worcester history past the beginning of the Civil War to know why Worcester's population of free Blacks (here since the early days of settlement) didn't grow as it did elsewhere. There was growth in the Black population during and after the Civil War as those freed in some cases came north to places familiar through occupation of northern forces or through missionary teachers. It then seems to have halted.

And Greenwood covers this:
After an influx of migrants to Worcester between 1880 and 1890, Worcester's black population languished in the first half of the twentieth century, never exceeding 2 percent of the overall population until 1980. Even the Great Migration, which brought millions of southern blacks to northern cities when the wartime shortages of white labor gave them access to industrial jobs, bypassed Worcester. Ella L. Vindal, who conducted a sociological study of Worcester's black community in the 1920's, noted that it was "not a migrant" community, as was typical in many northern cities during and after the Great Migration...Even as the state's black population grew by nearly 20 percent between 1910 and 1920--increasing at a rate even faster than the overall population--Worcester saw barely any increase at all, growing by only 0.7 percent.  Meanwhile, Springfield's black population increased by 80 percent, Brockton's increased by 50 percent, and Boston's increased by 20.3 percent. It is likely that the city had earned a reputation as an inhospitable place, which would not have been surprising given its negative attitude towards black labor...The city that once attracted fugitive and emancipated slaves alike because of its reputation for "benevolent sympathizers" now had a reputation for its paucity of kindness.
 emphasis added

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