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The founding of Avery Normal Institute in 1865 is celebrated on this date. Located in Charleston, SC, Avery Normal Institute was a nationally recognized Black educational institution that trained young adults in professional careers and leadership roles for nearly 100 years.
Avery Normal Institute came into existence with the aid of the American Missionary Association. While offering "general" courses (farming, sewing, cooking, millinery, laundry, and housekeeping), Avery gave its students a classical education, with courses in history, government, economics, languages, literature, teaching methods, natural philosophy, and physiology. In the early 1880s, Avery served as the only educational institution in Charleston that prepared "promising" blacks for college, playing a role in developing the black professional class.
Avery students became doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and teachers, participating in a movement of upward mobility not only of the black elite but also of former slaves and working-class blacks. Blacks had experienced higher aspirations, the heavy influence of the ideals set forth by the northern missionaries, and they followed these ideals, placing a good deal of importance on the notion of progress. This idea of progress shaped the new Charleston black elite and both exacerbated and ameliorated racial tensions of the day.
Charleston residents like Mamie Garvin Fields avoided Avery, feeling that the school helped maintain intra-segregation or segregation within the black community between light-skinned and dark-skinned individuals. Others believed, however, that the work done at Avery by its students served to lessen such divisions, adopting the missionary ideals of guiding the race to a better future.
The Avery Normal Institute closed in 1954, but its graduates carried on its legacy and tradition of community leadership and educational excellence. This was especially apparent in 1978 when Avery graduates organized the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture, a community-based historical society.