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Samuel A. Neale- Gilded Age Renaissance Man

*Disclaimer: All research conducted independently by Alonna Carter-Donaldson"

Samuel A. Neale was born in Frederick, Maryland to Samuel Neale Sr. And Eleanora Thompson in 1826. Neale’s father, Samuel Sr., was formerly enslaved and served in the War of 1812. Information on his service can be found here.

Like many African Americans, Samuel Neale Jr. migrated to the Pittsburgh area to seek out better opportunities. He acquired a job as a waiter at the St. Clair Hotel, then located in Downtown Pittsburgh, but was elected in 1856 as a teacher at Allegheny City School House No 8.[ “Gazette City Department.” The Pittsburgh Gazette, July 10, 1856] Neale taught mathematics and music among other things and also became a professor at Avery College. He would later be elected as principal of the Colored Schools of Allegheny City and served the district for over twenty years, with another one of our Black and Gilded trailblazers, Mary Mathilda Ware, serving as his assistant. Neale married Amanda Deckard, and the marriage produced nine children, some of whom would follow in their father’s profession.

While Neale possessed a passion to elevate his students, he was keenly aware of the barriers that the 19th-century racial caste system would place on them. Like many of his contemporaries such as Martin Delany, Neale pondered if African American emigration to another nation could offer his race a chance at equality. On April 13, 1857, Professor Neale made his thoughts clear in a speech before the Allegheny City Teacher’s Lyceum entitled Future Hopes of The Teacher.

What are the colored Teacher’s future hopes? Our hopes are identical with yours. It is true, we cannot point our pupils to the same fields of active enterprise and to the same goals of future eminence and glory; be we can point them to a sphere of usefulness equally extensive, and a destiny equally noble. Where that sphere of usefulness is to be manifested—or what their destiny is to be, it would not be proper or me on this occasion to state. I can only say that we will, perhaps find neither in the United States.”[ Samuel A. Neale, “Future Hopes of The Teacher” (1857), in The Pennsylvania School Journal Vol. VI-July 1857 to July 1886, edited by Thomas H. Burrowes. Lancaster, PA. WM. B. Wiley, Printer 1857]

Despite questioning if equality would ever exist in the United States, Neale did not give up his pursuit of it. He threw himself into causes and seized opportunities to place himself in positions where he could effect change for his community. Among his many accomplishments, Neale was the secretary of the Allegheny Teacher’s Institute, Secretary of the First Colored Baptist Church, and served on a committee for the Loyal But Disenfranchised Men which was a suffrage organization to get Black men the right to vote, and in which famed abolitionist and minister Henry Highland Garnett was president.[ “Convention of Disenfranchised Men” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, Dec. 29, 1868] Neale was also one of the first participants in what would become the Jubilee Freedmen’s Celebration and Emancipation Parade in Pittsburgh.[ “Emancipation Day.” Pittsburgh Daily Post, Sept. 23, 1869]

Neale was praised for his teaching skill and dedication to the advancement of African American youth in Allegheny City and the City of Pittsburgh. However, he was equally praised for organizing entertainment at city performing venues where he directed his students and colleagues in performing operas, and other musical performances. Many of his students went on to have successful careers as musicians. The unique thing about Neale’s ventures is that they were mostly financed out of pocket by himself. According to several local papers of the day, Neale’s salary as principal for Allegheny City Schools was less than to be desired, despite his superior teaching skills.[ “Professor S.A. Neale” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, July 2, 1869] However, this was not uncommon for the 19th century…nor the 21st.

Throughout the 1860’s Neale was also active with the National Equal Rights League, and when the Civil War broke out, Neale followed in his father’s footsteps by signing up for the draft in 1863[ U.S., Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865 [database online]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.].

A gifted speaker and considered one the premier orators of his day, Neale was often called on to make speeches to public audiences about the plight of his fellow African Americans in Pittsburgh and across the country. He used his public speaking skills not just to promote the cause of African Americans in the right to vote but also to engage his students in their upcoming fight against injustice and encouraged them to remain united as African Americans. One of the most riveting examples of this was at an 1870 Avery College Commencement where Hiriam Revels, the first African American Senator elected to the United States government was in attendance (pretty cool, huh?) In his address to the graduation class, Neale conveyed that education was the way that the new class would forge the way forward to equality and unity:

Education is aggressive…It is as potent a weapon to-day as it was two and half centuries ago among our ancestors who were stolen from Africa and brought to this country. All through those years of human bondage they were educated into distrust and jealous of each other. The slaveholders well knowing that the way to perpetuate slavery was to fan the flames of envy, malice, and suspicion among the enslaved. And now recourse is had to same instrumentality to keep the spirit of clannishness among us, as regnant as of yore…No, Students of Avery College college and scholars of the schools of our cities, I beg you to throw your longing eyes far up the hill which leads to the temple of knowledge, and then with book, pen, and brains, dash away every opposing barrier. Be aggressive in the true sense.”[ “Avery College” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, July 8, 1870]

In 1874, Neale took his passion for educating and uplifting his race into another venue by founding The Elevator with Thomas R. Hanna Johnson (commonly known as TRH Johnson), a Washington, PA teacher who was the first and only colored teacher in the state to receive a permanent certificate.[ “Personal.” The Pennsylvania School Journal, Vol 20 (1871): edited by J.P. Wickersham, p. 330] The mission of the elevator was to “a journal Devoted to the interests of the colored people. Its columns will consist of reading matter, adapted to the interests of the colored people calculated to enlighten them upon the current topics of the day, and upon all subjects related to their political, civil, and domestic affairs.”[ “The Monthly “Elevator,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, July 10, 1875] Neale would also become the editor of another journal called Commoner.[ “Brevities” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 22, 1878]

However, the 1870s would bring Neale obstacles as there was a growing push to see the promised fruits of Reconstruction blossom. This included a desire from the African American community to abolish segregated schools and also to have more Black teachers. In August 1878, Neale came under scrutiny by people like Benjamin A. Pulpress, who was an acquaintance and owner of the Diamond Oyster House in Allegheny City’s Diamond Market. Pulpress stated that the school was no longer needed one of the reasons being that the only teacher Neale produced was his daughter, Ella.[ “Allegheny School Controllers” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, July 3, 1878] A later paper would refute Pulpress’ claims and state that he was trying to overshadow Neale due to Pulpress being involved on the board of the Zion Hill Collegiate Institute, which was another school designed to produce African American teachers, based out of Washington, PA. Complaints of low attendance due to some schools beginning to voluntarily integrate and the financial cost of operating separate schools when school integration seemed inevitable, also caused others in the Black and White communities to question whether a Colored School should continue to exist in Allegheny City.

During this time, Neale began to have health problems and declined to run again for School principal again in 1879 due to ill health.[ “Allegheny News” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 1, 1879] Despite this, the Allegheny City Board of Education asked Neale and Mathilda Ware to resign.[ “Local Briefs” Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 12, 1879] Neale returned to his hometown of Fredrick, MD to convalesce, but died on August 16th, 1880.

Samuel A. Neale was truly a renaissance man and the embodiment of what education could provide an African American during this period. Neale devoted his entire life to uplifting his community and showing young Black children in Pittsburgh and Allegheny City what was possible. While he was met with challenges toward the end of his career, his students would never forget the impact he made on their lives and the courage he gave them to pursue their wildest dreams.

If you are aware of a picture of Professor Neale anywhere, please let me know!

Next: The Booker T. Washington Memorial Hospital

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