The Natural Way: Education
in the Jim Crow Order
To educate the Negro, you must have the whites of the South with you. If the poor white sees the son of a Negro neighbor enjoying through your munificence benefits denied to his boy, it raises in him a feeling that will render futile all your work. You must lift up the “poor white” and the Negro together if you would approach success.
General Education Board, Review and Final Report, 1964
Reforming the Jim Crow order meant not only harnessing the power of the states; it also meant using state power to invest in the South’s human resources through public health and education. Although New South boosters made a point of advertising the region’s cheap and nonunionized labor, this did not mean that the labor force offered could be wholly illiterate, unhealthy, and incapable of operating in a modern industrial setting. Education of some sort was necessary for industrial development; it was also necessary to secure lower-class whites’ participation in and black acquiescence to the ruling coalition of the Jim Crow order. Jim Crow reformers would play a leading role in creating the educational infrastructure that they hoped would perfect the Jim Crow order.
The emergence of Jim Crow reform in the 1920s stimulated the emergence of what Jim Crow reformers would call the “golden age” of segregated education. In particular the activities of northern foundations as well as the