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Charlotte Forten

Charlotte Forten, teacher, abolitionist, and suffragist grew up surrounded by activism. It’s no wonder she got involved in work for civil rights and equal rights for Black Americans.

In 1861, soon after the Civil War began, Union forces took over the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Confederate plantation owners fled the area leaving behind people they had enslaved, plus hundreds of acres of land and crops that need to be harvested.

The federal government issued an order that those freed by the Union Army would be resettled on those abandoned farms and would, for the first time, be paid to harvest the crops.

Enslaved Americans were not able to go to school so many of the emancipated men in women were not able to read and write. They needed assistance making the transition from slavery to citizenship.

Charlotte Forten, who was involved in the anti-slavery movement in Massachusetts, was recruited to go south and teach emancipated Black Americans on the Sea Islands of South Carolina.

Charlotte was the child of well respected abolitionists in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. She was born on August 17, 1837 and spent her early years in Philadelphia. Her parents were well-off and were able to hire a private tutor for her education. When she was seventeen they sent her to Salem, Massachusetts to live with friends who were also well-known abolitionists, and to attend an integrated school.

In 1856 Charlotte graduated from Salem Normal School, now Salem State University. She was the school’s first Black student. After graduation she worked as a teacher in Salem and taught Black and white students. She also joined the Female-Anti Slavery Society, before moving to South Carolina in 1862 to teach on St. Helena Island.

Charlotte taught on St. Helena Island for two years. She returned to Philadelphia in 1864 where she continued her activism. She also published “Life on Sea Islands” in 1864, which was about her experience teaching in the south.

Charlotte remained an activist for the rest of her life. She became active in the suffrage movement and in 1896 helped found the National Association of Colored Women.

Charlotte died in 1914 at the age of 76.