Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Changing Emphasis of the Rosenwald Fellowship Program, 1928-1948

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Changing Emphasis of the Rosenwald Fellowship Program, 1928-1948

Article excerpt

In 1928, as part of a broad-based philanthropic agenda, the Julius Rosenwald Fund established a fellowship program that enabled hundreds of African Americans to obtain graduate and professional education. This article reviews the history of this program, the candidates chosen for fellowships, and their majors. It concludes that the program experienced three distinct stages that reveal shifting philanthropic priorities. The first stage reflected accordance with Booker T. Washington's Hampton-Tuskegee accommodationist model of industrial education. The latter stages evidence closer alignment with W. E. B. DuBois's noninstrumentalist emphasis on classical-liberal curricula and the production of an elite "Talented Tenth."


Although the period from 1890 to 1920 was marked by rapid growth in the number of state normal (or teacher training) schools and other teacher education institutions, the need for Black teachers in the southern states during the 1920s and 1930s remained critical. In 1928, it was estimated that at least eight thousand new Black teachers were needed just to fill the vacancies in the region's public schools that year (Anderson, 1988). The supply of Black teachers was related to the need for Black local, county, and state school supervisors and for advanced training for already-certified Black teachers. It was also crucial to the further development of the nation's historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and to the continued development of an African American educational leadership.

An early U.S. Bureau of Education survey of HBCUs confirms the interdependence of elementary, secondary, and higher education for African Americans (Klein, 1929). According to that study, Blacks' higher education affected their mass education by ensuring the proper training of elementary and secondary teachers, adding to the economic stability of the race, and augmenting the Black professional and technical class. A later survey executed by Fred McCuistion (1933), a field representative for the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (SACSS) regional accrediting agency, concurred, noting that the chief aim of graduate instruction in historically Black schools was the preparation of teachers for normal departments (McCuistion, 1933). However, under the segregation-era system of education in the American South there was little opportunity for Blacks to obtain graduate and professional training. Blacks were denied admittance to southern White schools, and few historically Black institutions during the 1920s and 1930s had the necessary resources of faculty, library holdings, and laboratory facilities to support graduate training.

One exception to this rule was Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College in Texas. The dual system of education in that state provided no local opportunities for Black Texans to pursue advanced degree work, yet the state held Black teachers to the same certification standards as White teachers. To address the need for qualified Black teachers, a graduate department was established at Prairie View during the 1930-31 academic year. According to Frazier (1933), the purpose of graduate study at this institution was as follows:

. . .to give certain exceptional students an opportunity to do advanced study. . .with a view to making more effective teachers for the Secondary Schools and Junior Colleges, and to provide, at least, a general training in the use of the more simplified instruments of research and investigation of a practical nature. (p. 333)

Indeed, chief among the reasons for Blacks' increased demand for graduate opportunities were the advanced requirements for teacher certification set forth by SACSS and other regional accreditation agencies in the late 1930s. Accordingly, Black principals of southern secondary schools seeking a "first" or highest rating were required to have a master's degree or its equivalent. …

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