Crogman, William H.
William H. Crogman
Educator, lecturer, college president
As churchman, Christian scholar, lecturer, and educator, William H. Crogman distinguished himself during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century. He was a master teacher as well as a staunch advocate of the education of African Americans. His work was recognized at black educational institutions in Atlanta, in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and among such prominent black educators as Booker T Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. A man who preferred classical training for black students but respected industrial training as a purpose for sister institution Tuskegee Institute, Crogman left a legacy that is preserved in his speeches and writings on black history.
Born free on the island of St. Maarten, in Philipsburg, on May 5, 1841, William H. Crogman was the son of William and Charlotte Chippendale Crogman. By the time he was fourteen years old both parents had died. In 1855, B. L. Boomer, of a New England ship owning family, befriended him and took him to his Middleboro, Massachusetts, home to live. The family's business enabled Crogman to gain wide experiences as a seaman, as he traveled abroad for eleven years on one of its ships. He visited primary ports in Asia, Europe, Australia, and South America. His observations provided invaluable information and broadened his experiences as well.
- Born in St. Maarten, Leeward Islands, British West Indies on May 5
- Begins eleven-year career on the sea
- Graduates from Pierce Academy; begins teaching at Claflin College
- Receives B.A. from Atlanta University; begins teaching at Clark College
- Marries Lavinia C. Mott
- Receives M.A. from Atlanta University
- Serves as lay delegate to general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, returning in 1884 and 1888
- Addresses Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, New York
- Addresses National Education Association convention in Madison, Wisconsin
- Elected secretary of the Board of Trustees of Clark College
- Becomes commissioner for the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta
- Elected president of Clark College
- Resigns from the presidency and returns to teaching
- Moves to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Dies in Philadelphia on October 16
Crogman attended a district school near his new home. He worked and saved money to support himself in further training, and in 1868 he entered Pierce Academy in Middleboro, Massachusetts. He achieved so well that the principal placed him in a class by himself so that he might continue to excel without the presence of slower students who might hinder his progress. After graduating, in 1870 the Freedmen's Aid Society hired him as English teacher at all-black Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where he was the school's first black teacher. He had studied Greek and Latin independently, and now, with a vision to master those subjects, he enrolled in Atlanta University in 1873 and completed with distinction a classical course. He accelerated his studies and completed the four-year program in three, becoming a member of Atlanta's first graduating class in 1876 and receiving the A.B. degree. In 1879, he received a master's degree from Atlanta.
In 1876 as well, Crogman became a founding faculty member of nearby Clark University (today a part of Clark Atlanta University), later becoming a senior professor and a master teacher. On his fiftieth birthday, friends and former students recognized him with letters of praise. According to Louis-Charles Harvey's biographical sketch of Crogman, one student wrote that "he had the ability to motivate even the dullest student." He was called "a master of his very high calling, teaching." A man of unusual ability, Crogman taught Greek, Latin, and New Testament. He had honed his speaking skills and became a master of clear and elegant style. In his lectures he mixed humor with an easy delivery and held his audience spellbound. In 1910 Clark celebrated its fortieth anniversary and at the same time recognized Crogman for his work as a master teacher and advocate for education of his people.
Those organizations and institutions that invited him to speak were the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal church. As a layman, he was invited to speak at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, where Reverend Henry Ward Beecher was pastor. He spoke on October 14, 1883, for the morning and evening services. According to Men of Mark, he noted in his evening discourse that blacks had fought valiantly in all wars in defense of the United States government. They were in the Revolution and the Rebellion, and military leaders such as George Washington bore witness to their service. "The Negro fought in common with you to found this government," he said, "and to perpetuate this government." Although "hanged in the streets of New York by an infuriated mob; snubbed and mocked, buffeted and spit upon,… he has never for a moment deserted the Union." In spite of blacks' proven commitment to the United States, heated debates over the civil rights bill of that period showed that some members of Congress still considered blacks worthless, unmanly, and cowardly. Crogman's lecture on "The Negro's Needs" included his views on what he called "counter-education," the concern that blacks were taught one thing in church or school and given another view by mainstream white treatment of the race. These three lectures of Crogman's were printed in pamphlet form under the title Talks for the Times and made available for distribution.
Crogman also attended the National Association of Teachers in Madison, Wisconsin, serving as a delegate from Georgia. His address was praised in the press and was published in full in the association's report. He spoke again at many summer gatherings at a site that he called Chautauqua Island Park.
A devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Crogman was a lay delegate for the Savannah Conference at the denomination's General Conference for 1880, 1884, and 1888. He served as one of the assistant secretaries of the General Conference in 1884 and again in 1888. The Board of Bishops of the AME Church appointed him a delegate to the Ecumenical Council of Methodism held in London. Crogman was also a founding member of the Board of Trustees at Clark University and held the post until 1922.
The Methodist Episcopal Church's General Conference of 1892 established the University Senate comprised of fifteen educators selected by the bishops. The senate's purpose was to set minimum requirements for a baccalaureate degree program at the colleges and universities that the church supported. Crogman became one of the senate's initial members and apparently held the post until 1900.
In 1895 the historic Cotton States and International Exposition was held in Atlanta. Those who planned the exposition decided that, to succeed, it would need to provide some distinguishing characteristics; therefore, a major exhibit representing Negro culture would be appropriate. Crogman was the man for the task. He traveled to the leading cities in the South to gather exhibit materials and ideas for the display. Blacks eagerly supported him in his goal of presenting black history in an accurate and positive light. He responded by planning a large exhibit of significant educational and industrial importance. It was at this exposition that noted educator and Tuskegee Institute founder and president Booker T. Washington gave much of his New South philosophy in his address that many of his critics dubbed the "Atlanta Comprise." Notwithstanding criticism that his speech compromised black people, the address catapulted Washington into prominence as a national black educational leader. So successful was Crogman in his work that the exposition commissioner for blacks in the state of Georgia, which had a large and effective display, named Crogman permanent chair of the Board of Chief Commissioners for blacks all over the state.
Becomes President of Clark University
Crogman continued to teach—the occupation he enjoyed most—but accepted the post as acting president of Clark University in 1903–04 and was elected president at the Board of Trustee's meeting on July 1, 1904. (The institution was later known as Clark College, and much later, after it joined Atlanta University, the merged institutions became known as Clark Atlanta University.) After he took office, Crogman continued the agricultural pro-gram established earlier. Farmers' conferences and institutes were held, reaching scores of farmers throughout Georgia. Under his administration as well, Clark eliminated industrial and vocational education from its curriculum and raised the standards in all academic departments. In the 1880s' debate over industrial or classical education in the newly founded black college of the South, Crogman emphatically favored a classical education. Although Crogman had a lifelong friendship with Booker T. Washington, respected his leadership, and recognized Tuskegee as an important black college, he criticized the financial support and the energy that some leaders placed on vocational education. Washington, of course, favored industrial or vocational education. Crogman believed that liberal college programs were being neglected. Apparently an effective administrator, he remained Clark's president until June 1910 and then stepped down to return to full-time teaching. In that year as well, the university celebrated its fortieth anniversary. At that time the school recognized Crogman's services as both a great teacher and as president through most of the school's existence. Crogman retired eleven years later.
Although Crogman was known best as a college administrator, educator, scholar, and lecturer, he was also a race man. He protested racial segregation that prevailed in the South and refused to ride the segregated streetcars to his work place; instead, regardless of weather conditions, he walked several miles from Clark's campus to the downtown area. Crogman received an honorary Litt.D. from Atlanta University and the LL.D. degree from Clark University, both in 1901. The chapel at Clark was named in his honor.
Crogman was a charter board member of Gammon Theological Seminary (a Methodist-supported college in Atlanta), the Commission for the Unification of the Book Concern, and the American Geographical Society. Crogman belonged to the American Negro Academy (ANA), which Alexander Crummell founded in 1897. The ANA's membership included Du Bois, Frances J. Grimké, and other African American intellectuals. Crogman brought a valued balance to the organization by serving in a mediating position in the continuing debate over classical education that some educators favored and the industrial education that Booker T. Washington and his followers favored.
Crogman co-authored with Henry F. Kletzing Progress of a Race, or the Remarkable Advancement of the American Negro from the Bondage of Slavery and Poverty to Freedom and Citizenship, Intellect, Affluence, Honor and Trust. Booker T. Washington wrote the introduction for this work. The book was subsequently revised, enlarged, and published in 1901 as The Colored American, with J. W. Gibson as co-author. In 1920 it was published under its original title and subsequently reprinted.
On July 10, 1878, Crogman married Lavinia C. Mott, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina and a graduate of Atlanta University. The couple had eight children. After retiring from Clark and relocating to Philadelphia in 1921, Crogman and his wife lived quietly at 105 S. 34th Street, on the west side. He died one week before his wife, on October 16, 1931, when he was ninety years old.
Crogman's writings continue to contribute to black scholarship and black biography, while his reputation as an intellect and educator lives on. Even so, according to Grant S. Shockley, he "deserves more visibility than either black history or higher education has accorded him."
Brawley, James P. Two Centuries of Methodist Concern: Bondage, Freedom, and Education of Black People. New York: Vantage Press, 1974.
Harvey, Louis Charles. Something More Than Human. Ed. Charles E. Cole. Nashville: United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 1986.
Kennedy, Melvin D. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. Eds. Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. New York: Norton, 1982.
Shockley, Grant S., ed. Heritage & Hope: The African American Presence in United Methodism. Nashville: Abington Press, 1991.