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Who was the first black teacher for freed slaves?

In 1861 Mary Smith Kelsick Peake (1823–1862), a free woman of color, was the first teacher for freed slaves. Supported by the American Missionary Association, she was appointed to teach children at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and on September 17, 1861, she opened a school in Hampton, Virginia, marking the beginning of the general education of blacks in the South. The school started as a day school, providing elementary education for children. A night school for adults was soon added. Hampton Institute (now University) had its roots in this school. Peake was born in Norfolk, Virginia, daughter of a prominent Englishman and a free mulatto woman. At age six, she was sent to live with relatives in Alexandria, Virginia, to attend a private school for free blacks. When Virginia passed laws closing all schools for blacks, she returned to Norfolk, where she became established as a seamstress. She moved to Hampton, Virginia, when her mother married in 1847. Concern for her people led her to begin teaching children in her home. The Hampton home she shared with her husband was burned shortly after the Civil War began, which led the Peakes and other blacks to seek harbor at Fortress Monroe. Unfortunately, Peake’s health failed shortly after establishment of the school, and she died of tuberculosis on February 22, 1862.


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