Dangerous Donations: Northern Philanthropy and Southern Black Education, 1902-1930

By Eric Anderson; Alfred A. Moss Jr. | Go to book overview

Introduction

hilanthropy for black education has been described in two ways. It is either an example of the richness and vitality of American life, a sign of the nation's potential for renewal, or it is an illustration of America's broken promises, a crafty form of “generosity” designed to prevent real reform.

Scholars who support the first view are likely to cite Alexis de Tocqueville. “No sooner do you set foot upon American ground, ” observed this famous foreign visitor to the United States, “than you are stunned by a kind of tumult”—the clamor of Americans engaged in their voluntary associations for social improvement. “The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; they found in this manner hospitals, prisons, schools.” 1. From this point of view, philanthropy for black schools (whether generated by Yankee do-gooders or blacks pursuing self-help) is a good illustration of the same restless spirit, the same energetic community building observed by Tocqueville. The fact that private giving played a key role in the establishment of black educational institutions (as well as churches and hospitals) is simply part of a national pattern.

The contrasting view describes philanthropy in ambivalent, ironic, even hostile terms. Philanthropists created and supported schools, argue some scholars, as a means to achieve larger goals, particularly the maintenance of social peace after the Civil War and the creation of a class of submissive workers. Proponents of this position remember, no doubt, a passage from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, in which a student at a Tuskegee-like school contemplates a statue of the school's founder:

Then in my mind's eye I see the bronze statue of the college Founder, the cold Father symbol, his hands outstretched in the breathtaking gesture of lifting a veil that flutters in hard metallic folds about the face of a

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1.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Richard D. Heffner, ed. (New York: New American Library, 1956), 108, 198.

-1-

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