Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy

By David S. Cecelski ; Timothy B. Tyson | Go to book overview

could really accomplish, encouraging them to believe in their own highest potential. Men a white investigator got 1,184 black high schoolers to fill out questionnaires in 1932, he seemed surprised by the results. Fully 98 percent intended to graduate; 95 percent planned to attend college or trade school. He demurred that "only a small part of the total group, probably less than 25 percent, is fitted for success in academic fields of study."42

Shaw students, whose agitation for a stronger curriculum and black control forced the university's white president to quit, would have disagreed. Determined to resist the status quo, Ella J. Baker graduated from Shaw in 1926 and moved to New York City. She organized unemployed people during the New Deal era and became a branch organizer for the NAACP. Taking advantage of Shaw's offerings, students like Baker enrolled in courses that deepened their understanding of Afro-American life. History 5 considered the black experience from "the African background of the America Negro . . . to the present day, and his efforts for justice will be studied." English 307 discussed "the contributions of the Negro to American literature." Sociology 303 surveyed "pathological conditions in society," especially alcoholism, insanity, prejudice, prostitution, and poverty. Certain professors were noted for challenging student thinking. Charles Ray, a 1933 graduate, singled out his mentor, English professor Benjamin G. Brawley, who was acting dean, debating coach, department chair, director of the players' guild, editor of the Home Mission College Review, and a prolific author. "He was to English what W. E. B. Du Bois was to Social science," writes another student, Wilmoth A. Carter, who graduated in 1937. "His mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, knowledge, and scholarly demands made him a legend at Shaw. . . . No student went to Brawley's class without his work."43

An attitude and ideology of protest against Jim Crow evolved at Shaw and other schools. John H. Lucas, who graduated from Shaw in 1940 and later earned advanced degrees at North Carolina College for Negroes and New York University, appreciates having been informed about race in college. "Yes, it came up in class . . . because of the black community's active involvement in seeking equality back then," he calls to mind. Sociology 306 was one class that provided such information, as it introduced "facts and points of view bearing on some of the major problems now confronting American society, with major emphasis on . . . race relations." Gaines v. Canada ( 1938), a Supreme Court decision mandating the admission of a black student to the University of Missouri Law School, as well as the University of North Carolina's

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