Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Home for Wayward Boys: The Early History of the Alabama Boys' Industrial School

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Home for Wayward Boys: The Early History of the Alabama Boys' Industrial School

Article excerpt

A Home for Wayward Boys: The Early History of the Alabama Boys' Industrial School. By Jerry C. Armor. Foreword by Wayne Flynt. (Montgomery, Ala.: NewSouth Books, 2015. Pp. xiv, 186. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-60306-345-6.)

Nostalgia glosses the pages of Jerry C. Armor's A Home for Wayward Boys: The Early History of the Alabama Boys' Industrial School as he constructs a past where white reform school students were acceptably mischievous and simply in need of moral and educational guidance. A former juvenile probation officer, Armor has written an institutional history of the Alabama Boys' Industrial School (ABIS), which began in 1899 as a result of the efforts of Elizabeth Johnston. The daughter of a North Carolina planter who died in a Civil War prison camp, Johnston began ministering to convict laborers in Birmingham's coal mines after the war. She ultimately decided to create the school as an alternative to prison for white juvenile offenders. Underage African Americans continued to languish in convict labor camps until black Alabamians founded a reform school for minors in 1911. Armor posits, without evidence, that Johnston would have likely supported integration if possible, even though ABIS only integrated by court order in 1970.

Johnston was a tireless warrior who successfully lobbied the Alabama legislature and set up the school's all-female board of directors. Here especially the insights of women's and gender historians would have provided perspective for Johnston's accomplishments. Armor does not cite the work of a single academic historian until the brief epilogue. Additionally, Armor discusses the Christian faith of Johnston and others in a manner befitting a religious text, arguing that God was an active agent. Armor asserts, for example, that "God must have been involved," and that "the Lord truly began to work" (pp. 45, 46).

After an extensive chronological narrative of the school's founding, Armor organizes the rest of the work as a thematic overview of early-twentieth-century school life. …

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