The General Education Board's Involvement in Higher Education for African Americans: The Case of North Carolina College for Negroes, 1909-1930

by Elizabeth Lundeen

Jan 1, 2014
The General Education Board's (GEB) substantial contributions to African American education in the South are well documented, but how the Board prioritized what types of black educational institutions to fund has received less attention. How did the Board decide between public and private schools, industrial training and academic curricula, common schools and colleges? And how did the Board's thinking on these issues evolve over time due to changes in personnel and leadership? Furthermore, to what extent did the preferences of white Southerners influence the Board's decision making in these matters? My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center focused on three institutions that represented the full range of possibilities for black education in the early twentieth century. North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham, which was chartered in 1925 as the region's first state-sponsored four-year liberal arts college for African Americans, began as the privately funded but denominationally unaffiliated National Religious Training School in 1909. The Mississippi Negro Training School, which did not became part of the Mississippi state system until 1940, began in 1882 as Jackson College, an institution supported by the American Home Baptist Missionary Society. Virginia State College for Negroes in Petersburg, chartered in 1930, had been part of the public system since its establishment as Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute in 1882. In 1902, its name was changed to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute. Each of these institutions received financial support from the GEB at some point in their developing years, though none was ever a favorite institution of the Board. Thus, the correspondence records and reports for these schools in the GEB files reveal more rejections than acceptances of funding proposals. But within these interoffice discussions of why the Board chose not to fund these schools is a treasure trove of information. Because of chronic underfunding, several historically black colleges and universities possess little in the way of archival records concerning their institutional pasts. The state bureaucratic records pertaining to the establishment and maintenance of publicly funded historically black institutions, particularly in Mississippi and Virginia, are also limited. Thus, my research in the GEB records has allowed me to fill in several gaps with regard to the institutional histories of these colleges.
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