Document Type



Doctor of Education


Education, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Matthew D. Davis, Ph.D.


Lynn Beckwith

Carl Hogan

Claude Weathersby


Whether in slavery or in freedom, African Americans understood the important role education played in their quest towards citizenship. As enslaved people, they risked their lives to learn to read and write so they would be prepared when freedom came their way. As free people, they continued to strive for an education that would move them beyond their prescribed station in life. Throughout the history of African Americans, they actively pursued their educational aspirations instead of patiently waiting for them to be granted. The research associated with educational agency before and after the Civil War provides some insight into the ways African Americans worked towards liberation. From paying for their own teachers to building their own schools, African Americans are primary players in the narrative of educational advancements in the South. These stories of agency are in direct contrast to the stories of Northern philanthropists being responsible for African American education in the Southern states. Many of these narratives of African American agency are relatively new to the field and don’t take into account border states such as Missouri. This dissertation looks at African American educational agency in St. Louis, Missouri, a city in a state that was North enough to be in the Union, but South enough to permit slavery. Because of this dichotomy of ideology, Missouri is usually left out of discussions on issues of race and education because it did not neatly fit into a geographical region. Instead of asking how and why Missouri fit into the national narrative of African American education, such questions were merely a footnote, if they were mentioned at all. Instead of viewing the duality of Missouri’s state identity as something to be ignored, this dissertation views it as a challenge to propel the story of African American educational agency in St. Louis to center stage. Starting with the creation of an African American school board in the 1860s through the construction of Vashon High School in 1927, the story of African American agency is told through the lens of the citizens’ councils that were organized to advocate for educational advancement. The men who comprised the citizens’ councils worked tirelessly to insure that the educational dreams of former enslaved people were realized generation after generation.

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