She Never Gave Up On Educating Her People

Contraband school
Shonda Buchanan
August 11, 2020

Hampton was burning! Mary Peake began to pray as the sounds of cracking timber, gunshots and screams peppered the August night. Educated Black women like her were a target.

And so were her students.

Charred wood scent still in the air, a breeze lifted the leaves of the massive oak tree under which they sat. She scanned the clearing for white people, then opened her book and began to teach. “Today, we’re going to learn the word ‘Free.’”

This act put them all in incredible danger.

The oppressive heat soaked the men’s worn calico shirts. The women fanned themselves. But the heat and the explosions of cannon fire in the distance couldn’t stop them. “F, R, E, E,” they repeated. 

Mary Peake was committing a heinous crime - illegally educating Black people at the height of the Civil War. Why didn’t America want us to read?

Because knowledge is power! They knew that educated, literate Black people posed a threat to white supremacy. 

But Peake refused to cower in fear. Despite the racist threats, she educated over 900 students!

Her actions were so significant that, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln first read the Emancipation Proclamation under that same oak tree, and “Emancipation” Oak later became Hampton University!

We may have to fight to educate our youth for true Black liberation. Peake’s brave defiance to control Black education inspires us all!

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