A History of Southland College: The Society of Friends and Black Education in Arkansas

By Newman, Mark | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

A History of Southland College: The Society of Friends and Black Education in Arkansas


Newman, Mark, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


A History of Southland College: The Society of Friends and Black Education in Arkansas. By Thomas C. Kennedy. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 349. Preface and acknowledgments, illustrations, epilogue, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95.)

Founded by Indiana Quakers to educate the children of freedpeople after the Civil War, Southland College, located near Helena, Arkansas, led a precarious but productive existence until finally succumbing to financial problems in 1925. In a meticulously researched and engagingly written study, Thomas C. Kennedy praises Southland "for the long, selfless service it performed for a small body of truly needy human beings and for the generous spirit that impelled that service," but he also chronicles internal disputes, recurrent monetary difficulties, relationships with the local African- American and white communities, and the institution's changing nature over time (p. 267). The result is an institutional history reliant on organizational papers, newspapers, and periodicals that is frequently enlivened by accounts of intrigue, rivalries and everyday struggles drawn from letters, diaries, memoirs, and autobiographies.

Kennedy argues that in the wake of the Civil War, "Quakers, unlike most representatives of the various denominations that came south, consistently" believed that African Americans should be treated equally and educated according to their needs rather than those of denominational selfinterest (p. 34). Although always headed by a white Yankee Quaker, Southland developed a genuinely integrated faculty and, despite some uneasiness among Quaker supporters in Indiana who often shared commonplace white racial stereotypes of African Americans, produced several black ministers, including the denomination's first, Daniel Drew.

Husband and wife Calvin and Alida Clark led Southland in its first twenty-five years with dedication and drive, with Alida serving as "teacher, surrogate mother, missionary, minister, matron, and fundraiser" (p. 104). Entrepreneurs as well as evangelists, the Clarks soon became planters and substantial local landowners able to work without pay. They also tried, with, it seems, little success, to create a community of independent African-American landholders around the college in a region dominated by cotton sharecropping. A few Southland students joined its teaching staff, and many became public school teachers in Arkansas and neighboring states.

In the mid-1890s, ten years after the Clarks' retirement, Southland, reflecting contemporary trends in southern black education, temporarily shifted its focus from an equalitarian literary education to industrial education and manual labor, leading to some student objections. …

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