Magazine article The New Crisis

America's "Other" Private Schools

Magazine article The New Crisis

America's "Other" Private Schools

Article excerpt

Mention the names of New England's private schools and a large number of Americans will recognize them. Recent news articles, for example, note that both John E Kennedy Jr. and presidential hopeful George W Bush attended Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. Schools such as Phillips and Exeter have educated the children of generations of America's first families.

Less well known, however, are AfricanAmerican private schools, often designated as academies, whose existence has been virtually ignored.

Prior to 1920, over 200 AfricanAmerican academies operated in the South, and black children depended on them for a high school education. Secondary schools in the South during this time were few and far between, and the few that existed were in the major cities.

In 1916, for example, four southern states did not have a single public high school for blacks, and half of all black students at the secondary level were enrolled in private academies. Georgia had one public black high school but closed it to direct funds to the education of white children. A court battle ensued and Georgia was forced to reopen the black school.

The alarming lack of public secondary education provided for black students reflected the prevailing philosophy in the South, which did not make public education - indeed, any education - a high political and social item for African Americans.

In the midst of this educational failure and because of the insatiable desire for an education, blacks found ways to establish their own schools. They were aided in their quest by religious groups and by philanthropists. John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Julius Rosenwald gave generous amounts of money to build schools in black communities, to improve instruction, and to establish libraries. These philanthropists often directed that their largesse should fund "industrial education" favored by Booker T. Washington, who had counseled blacks against pressing for social equality and urged them to train themselves as useful workers for the southern economy.

The Washington concept of industrial education, however, was not embraced by all African Americans. Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, actively opposed Washington's ideas. DuBois urged blacks to pursue collegiate courses and a classical education.

DuBois wrote: "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth..."

The DuBois philosophy resonated well with AfricanAmerican academies, many of which offered industrial education that was less emphasized than academic subjects. In reality, the competing Washington-DuBois concepts ultimately led to two types of schools for blacks: County training schools largely emphasized industrial education and some teacher training, while academies largely emphasized college preparatory subjects and some teacher training.

Religious denominations also founded African-American academies in the South. Notable were the efforts of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (after 1870, the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A.), which established over 75 private schools in the South. In South Carolina alone, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. established 25 schools. In Georgia, Boggs Academy at Keysville was the first boarding school established by the Presbyterians.

Shortly before it closed in 1986, Boggs was said to be the only predominantly black accredited boarding school in the U.S. Today, the former academy continues as the Boggs Rural Life Center.

Other denominations also established private academies. The Baptists founded Fredericksburg Normal and Industrial Academy in Virginia in 1905 and Bettis Academy in Trenton, S.C., in 1881. The Methodist Episcopal Church founded Mather Academy in Camden, S.C., in 1887. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church established Clinton Normal and Industrial Institute in Rock Hill, S. …

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