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Collage of images from the archive

Browse the Archive

Our digital archive contains a wide selection of drawings, essays, and other work by African Free School students.

Browse the archive

Learn About the African Free School's History


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In 1787, at a time when slavery was crucial to the prosperity and expansion of New York, the New York African Free School was created by the New York Manumission Society, a group dedicated to advocating for African Americans. The school's explicit mission was to educate black children to take their place as equals to white American citizens. It began as a single-room schoolhouse with about forty students, the majority of whom were the children of slaves, and by the time it was absorbed into the New York City public school system in 1835, it had educated thousands of children, a number of whom went on to become well known in the United States and Europe. The New-York Historical Society’s New York African Free School Collection preserves a rich selection of student work and community commentary about the school. This site showcases pages from Volume IV of the collection, Penmanship and Drawing Studies, 1816–26, and tells the story of the school and of African American New York in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.