Reviewing the History of Philanthropy in Black Education

Article excerpt

Reviewing the History of Philanthropy in Black Education

A mid the burgeoning literature about modern philanthropy, Eric Anderson and Alfred A. Moss Jr. make a significant contribution to our understanding of philanthropy as an agent of social change. In Dangerous Donations: Northern Philanthropy and Southern Black Education, 1902-1930, not only do the authors critique the potential and limitations of philanthropy, but they provide significant insights into an important era in Black history and American education.

Anderson and Moss recount the complex story of one of the earliest attempts by northern philanthropists to bring about major social change in the U.S. -- by increasing educational opportunities for African Americans in the South within a few decades of the close of the Civil War. Until the latter part of the 19th century, the education of Blacks was largely the domain of missionary societies, notably those of the Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist Churches. The work of these societies was "first supplemented and then overshadowed" by secular foundations -- for example, the Slater Fund and The Peabody Fund, established in 1881 and 1887, respectively.

The most significant foundations, however, both in terms of their extensive resources and their ultimate influence, were the General Education Board established in 1902 with $33 million in gifts from the Rockefellers and the Southern Education Board established in 1901. Although other foundations would have a significant impact on the education of Blacks and Whites, none had more influence than these two -- especially the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board. These were the two foundations after which the others modeled themselves.

Anderson and Moss carefully trace the evolution of Black education in the South. There were the early missionary societies that believed it was a religious obligation to "elevate the freedmen." Then there were the early philanthropists, such as millionaire merchant John F. Slater, who viewed southern education as a "patriotic duty that could not well be shirked without disaster." And there was the General Education board's "Scientific and efficiently organized philanthropy."

The authors also explore the various conflicting forces that constricted the work of the northern philanthropists. These included the demands of African Americans not only for increased educational opportunities, demanding something on par with that available to Whites, but also for control of these same institutions. …