From Enslaved to Education Trailblazer

One day in 1813, in South Carolina, there was a disagreement between a slave owner and the local Church Congregation over his enslaved population. The owner decided to free his slaves and sent them all North. One of those enslaved individuals was a child named John Newton Templeton – a man of true inspiration. Like most enslaved individuals in the South, he was not taught how to read or to write.

John, with his family, made his way through Ohio. The state was relatively new, only being admitted in 1803. The first university, Ohio University in Athens, OH, was granted State University status in 1804 and opened for college students in 1809. In 1824, one of those students was 19-year-old John Newton Templeton.

Unfortunately for Templeton, becoming a student was difficult. Ohio had Black Laws, which required any African-American that wanted to be in Ohio to have to submit an application, a letter of recommendation from a white man vouching in favor of character, and a $500 bond. This was almost impossible for anyone in the early 1800’s. Even so, it was no deterrent to John Newton Templeton. He became the first black man to enroll at Ohio University.

John Newton Templeton’s time at Ohio University was likely a little uncomfortable. He was the only Black person among his classmates. In addition, he lived with the president of the University, Robert G. Wilson, and was the “house servant” to the president and his wife, which covered his tuition, room, and board. Templeton studied well and graduated high in his class. He gave his speech at commencement and went on to live a life as a teacher.

Templeton was the first Black man to graduate from Ohio University, first in the State of Ohio, and fourth in the nation. He blazed the trail and set a new standard for equality in education in the United States.

After reading the passage above, students should consider the questions below.

1.) Black Laws were in place, with several requirements to bypass them as a black person in Ohio. Using the above online databases and your own knowledge, why do you think Black Laws were introduced in Ohio?

2.) Because of inflation over time, $500 is worth much less now than it was in 1820! How much would $500 from 1820 be in today’s dollars? What are ways someone could obtain the $500 bond needed for the Black Laws?

3.) John Newton Templeton is remembered because of his achievement, yet the vast majority of African-Americans in Ohio struggled to get a good education. What barriers, legal and social, small and large, existed for them to get an education? How would this impact African-Americans over generations?

Resources to Use



Blog Image Citation: Jewett, C.A., engraver. “Ohio University Engraving”. Picture. Athens, Ohio, 1838. From Ohio Memory: Early Ohio University Documents Collection. (accessed January 26, 2023).

Posted February 14, 2023

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