Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

The Early Years of the United Negro College Fund, 1943-1960

Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

The Early Years of the United Negro College Fund, 1943-1960

Article excerpt

At least during these critical times a unified financial campaign for several Negro Colleges seems to be an idea worth toying with.

Frederick D. Patterson, 1943 (1)

In the early 1940s, private higher education for African Americans was deeply in crisis. During the two decades from 1920 to 1940, contributions from foundations and wealthy benefactors had plummeted. Many former sources of support for private black colleges dwindled due to the Great Depression and World War II. Yet, the need for these schools was at an all time high, because they were the only private colleges open to African Americans in the South. They were educating 50 percent of all African Americans enrolled in college at that time, many of whom in turn would become future African American leaders.

Dr. Frederick D. Patterson, the third president of Tuskegee Institute, was extremely concerned with the financial problems facing black colleges. To gain more information about this issue, he wrote to the private college presidents to find out if their financial situations were as bleak as Tuskegee's. Indeed, this was the case and Dr. Patterson published his findings in the January 30, 1943, issue of the Pittsburgh Courier. In his article he urged private black colleges and universities to "pool their small monies and make a united appeal to the national conscience." (2) As Dr. Patterson recalled ten years later, the black colleges had three choices: "(1) to go out of existence entirely, (2) to accept partial or total subsidy from public funds, (3) or to unite in an annual appeal for current funds to the end of broadening the base of support while reducing costs of appeal promotion." (3) It must be noted that not all private black colleges were included in the proposed "United College Drive." Only those insti tutions possessing a quality "A" rating would be considered for inclusion.

On March 9, 1943, Dr. Patterson discussed the proposal for a united campaign on the part of the private colleges with members of the General Education Board (GEB), including William H. Baldwin III, John Price Jones, Jackson Davis, and Dr. A. R. Mann. He found them unanimous in the feeling that this was a worthwhile undertaking. At the time, John Price Jones was one of the leading commercial fund-raisers in the country, and he was optimistic about the united campaign. During this meeting, Jones stated: People with less than $5000 a year annual income gave away over four hundred million dollars yearly. These figures were taken from income tax blanks and we know that many people until very recently have not filed income tax blanks and that these same people are liberal givers to their churches, fraternities, fraternal organizations, etc. (4)

John Price Jones further pointed out that "the average man now is making more money than he has ever made in the history of this country, that priorities, rationing, etc. are forcing him to save this money and that this is the best possible time to enlist his aid." Jackson Davis added that "an effort of this kind would provide the form of expression which is needed to promote better interracial relations and that there are many people who would find this the most desirable way possible to express their good will toward the Negro." (5) As both men were presumably correct in their assessments, Dr. Patterson decided to write to nineteen presidents of other private black colleges summarizing what occurred in the March 9, 1943, meeting with GEB members. In his letter he invited each of these college presidents to attend a meeting on Monday, April 19, 1943, at Tuskegee Institute.

Realizing this was short notice, Dr. Patterson was trying to take advantage of the fact that John Price Jones would be in Nashville on April 16 for Fisk University's Board of Trustees meeting. He invited Jones to attend the meeting on April 19 and Jones accepted. Among those in attendance at the "United College Drive Conference" at Tuskegee Institute on April 19, 1943, were R. …

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