The White Architects of Black Education: Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954

By Sekayi, Dia | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The White Architects of Black Education: Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954


Sekayi, Dia, The Journal of Negro Education


The White Architects of Black Education: Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954 by William H. Watkins. New York, New York: Teachers College Press, 2001. 208 pp. $22.95, paper.

Reviewed by Dia Sekayi, Howard University.

Author, William Watkins, is a sociologist and historian of education. He is widely pubfished in this area. This background, along with his lifetime of political activism, leaves him well positioned to discuss the history of Black education from a unique perspective.

Watkins uses the metaphor of architecture to refer to the ideological construction of colonial Black education. He opens the book with a helpful overview of the two parts; the first of which places the architects' lives within a political/sociological/historical context. Time is not typically taken to provide such a detailed context. However, Watkins deftly crosses disciplines to help the reader make sense of the events and people who have affected the history of Black education.

In part one, Watkins chronicles the power, politics, and reality of educating Blacks. He reviews the ideology underlying various forms of philanthropy. His discussion of scientific racism and eugenics as a backdrop is very informative. Indeed, the reader can carry away this portion of the book to interpret other historical texts that deal with the experiences of African Americans and other oppressed groups during the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Part two of the book consists of seven chapters that chronicle the personal and professional lives of individuals, partners, and families described as the architects of Black education. While each of the names is familiar, the reader is provided with some extremely insightful information on persons whose names are usually only mentioned, comparatively speaking, in other texts on the same subject. Having access to a fuller history on General Samuel Armstrong, the subject of the first biographical chapter, assists the reader in interpreting the ostensible contradiction between his life as founder of Hampton Institute and as White supremacist. In poignant wording, Watkins writes:

Theoretically, Armstrong brought together the powerful with the powerless. He brought racial supremacists together with those seeking equality. He brought together the lion and the lamb. It was always clear, however, that he was working for the powerful, the supremacists, and the lion. (p. 44)

In Chapter 4, Watkins brings us into the philosophy of Franklin Giddings. His claim to fame is the infusion of "scientific sociology" into the curriculum. This scientific sociology justified a racial hierarchy that culminates in White supremacy. His social theory is said to have helped in framing a colonial model of segregation for America.

In Chapter 5, the reader is introduced to the Phelps Stokes family. The theme of social justice coexisting side by side with deep seeded beliefs in human inequality continues. Watkins warns the reader to examine the company kept and projects funded by the Phelps Stokes family if we are to truly understand the motivation behind these leaders of scientific corporate philanthropy.

In Chapter 6, the life of Thomas Jesse Jones is presented. Again, this architect accepted the concept of racial hierarchy while acting as a "champion" for so-called Negro education. Watkins analyzes his experiences with settlement houses, the Hampton Institute, and the Phelps Stokes Fund. …

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