Albany School Pioneered In African American Education

By Issa Lara Combs
Athens NEWS Special Projects Editor
December 5, 1994

Albany Enterprise Academy"The School will be owned and managed by colored persons; but this does not in our opinion make an argument against it.

"The day has gone by for the colored man to be used as a mere machine. He must now reflect the light of his own intellectual and moral development, must either shine in the effulgence of his own wisdom, or sink to poverty and wretchedness by his own ignorance."

On March 14, 1864, this broadsheet appeared in Albany, Ohio. It was distributed to "The Friends of the Colored People," and was signed by several board members of the Albany Enterprise Academy, as a way to gain support for the completion of their school, the Albany Enterprise Academy.

The Albany Enterprise Academy was one of several schools located in Albany to enjoy a long and successful history of educating area residents. Operating for more than twenty years, the academy was founded and operated by several black residents of Albany in response to the change of ownership to the Albany Manual Labor Academy, a school that had previously permitted blacks and women to enroll.

"There was a big increase in the black population in Albany in the 1850s," noted Ivan M. Tribe, a professor of history at the University of Rio Grande in Gallia County. "Part of that is due to the Albany Manual Labor Academy."

After being taken over by the Disciples of Christ, Christian Church, the Albany Manual Labor Academy "refused further admission to the black community," according to Getting to Know Athens County by Elizabeth Grover Beatty and Marjorie S. Stone.

As a result, in 1863 the Albany Enterprise Academy was founded. The school's first trustees included Thomas Jefferson Furguson (co-founder of the Ohio Colored Teacher's Association, member of the Albany City Council and the first black to serve on a jury in Athens County), Cornelius Berry (father of Edward Berry of the Berry Hotel), Philip Clay, David Norman, Woodrow Wiley and Jackson Wiley.

Financing was raised through selling shares of stock for $25 each, and donations came in from supporters. By November 20, 1863, about twenty acres of land was purchased for the school and by June the next year, a two-story building called the Chapel was almost complete. The school had two departments: primary and academic. Classes were already being held with 49 students enrolled at the school.

THE ACADEMY WAS FOUNDED, according to its constitution, with the objective of furnishing "all persons of good moral character who may wish to avail themselves of its privileges, a sound Christian and Literary education - particularly colored persons who wish to prepare themselves for teachers or educators of their race or to fill with honor other positions in Society."

The academy's first principal was the Rev. A. Binga. In its 1871 catalogue, tuition was listed at $3.50 a term for the primary education department and $5 for the academic department. Each term lasted 14 weeks.

Classes included reading, writing, spelling, practical and higher arithmetic, higher geography, grammar and analysis of the English language, algebra, geometry, bookkeeping, natural, moral and mental philosophy, anatomy, chemistry, astronomy and history. According to Tribe's book Albany, Ohio: The First Fifty Years of a Rural Midwestern Community, the Enterprise Academy had in "excess of one hundred students" in its early years of operation (about the same number of students were enrolled at Ohio University at the same time). A second building was built to house a girl's dormitory in 1870.

The school enjoyed support not only from the community but from neighboring counties as well. I. W. Andrews, then-president of Marietta College, expressed his support for the academy, as did Thomas Wickes, pastor of the Congregational Church in Marietta, who expressed his support in a letter dated July 2, 1864:

"It is the only institution in the State which is under the control of the colored people. If this race, too, is ever to rise and fulfill its destiny, this is the direction in which it must move. We regard this effort, therefore, with peculiar interest, as one destined to accomplish an important work, and prove one of the intrumentalities for elevating this long oppressed race."

"I think that generally Albany was a harmonious community. Race relations were generally good," explained Tribe. BUT THE ENTERPRISE eventually fell on hard times. By the late 1870s, enrollment figures went down due largely to the decline in the area's black population. In 1886, the Enterprise's last year, its founder and staunchest supporter, T. J. Furguson, fell ill and resigned, causing the school to close that same year.

"I think that economic opportunities for African Americans were limited, and slowly but surely, the black community drifted away," said Tribe.

Also, according to Getting to Know Athens County, the rise of public education "offering free and nonsegregated education" made many private academies close down, including the Enterprise.

Materials for this story were taken from the private collection of Michel S. Perdreau.

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