Francis Lewis Cardozo was born in 1836 in Charleston, South Carolina. His father was a Jewish merchant and his mother was a free African American. At that time, Charleston had a large population of free blacks.
Unfortunately, being free did not give African Americans the same rights as white people. There were also not many African American schools in Charleston. Cardozo tried to address this by founding the Avery Normal Institute in 1865. It was the city’s first free secondary school for African Americans. A “Normal” school is one that trains teachers. Today, the Avery Normal Institute is known as the Avery Research Center and is part of the College of Charleston.
Soon after he founded the school in Charleston, Cardozo was elected the Secretary of State of South Carolina. He was the first African American to be elected to a state office. Cardozo also served as the principal of an African American high school in Washington, DC.
Cardozo dedicated his life to creating educational opportunities for African American children. This was particularly important after the Civil War. Slavery was permitted in the United States until 1865, and it was illegal to teach an enslaved person to read and write. When enslaved men, women, and children were freed after the Civil War, many could not read or write. Cardozo and others thought education was one of the best ways to give African Americans more opportunities in life.
Franklin, V.P. “‘They Rose or Fell Together’: African American Educators and Community Leadership, 1795-1954.” In The SAGE Handbook of African American Education. Edited by Linda C. Tillman. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc., 2009.
Fordham, Damon L. Voices of Black South Carolina: Legend and Legacy. Charleston: The History Press, 2009.
Powers Jr., Bernard E. “Francis L. Cardozo: An Early African American Urban Educator.” In The Human Tradition in Urban America. Edited by Roger Biles. Wilmington, DE: A Scholarly Resources Inc., 2002.