Date of Award

Fall 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Jessica Elfenbein


This thesis investigates the relationship between the white-dominated Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and African Americans from 1880-1920, exploring the motivations, philosophies, and strategies of the PCUSA and the ways that they used education to achieve their goals of helping forge educated and devoutly Christian African Americans. The church’s history highlights the ways in which Presbyterian paternalism developed in the years leading up to 1880, as well as contradictions in white church members’ understandings of race relations and their conflation of civic duty with religious responsibility. The church’s efforts in primary education provide a window into ideas about gender and the different roles of men and women and simultaneously showcase the ways that the American debate over education in the impacted Presbyterian understandings of education and race. While Presbyterians focused heavily on primary education in their parochial schools, they also operated colleges and seminaries to support the development of an educated class of Black professionals, teachers, and ministers. Throughout these efforts, responsibility, paternalism, and accountability led them to wrestle with issues like the “Negro Problem” and the cultural prescriptions and racial mores of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Southern United States.