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Hampton Institute

Hampton Institute

In 1868 in Hampton, Virginia, Samuel Chapman Armstrong founded Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute as a nondenominational and coeducational school where young African Americans were to be trained as teachers. Armstrong, a white man, was convinced that most freedmen's schools were failures because they did not address blacks' most pressing needs. He believed that the experience of slavery had caused African Americans to degenerate into a morally deficient caste, and he accepted the stereotypical image of the freedman as poor, lazy, insolent, and lawless. To succeed, he argued, educators had to respond to these harsh realities by developing an entirely new approach to education for blacks. In addition to offering academic instruction, schools had to contribute to their pupils' moral development and help them attain material prosperity. Armstrong intended Hampton to be a model school, where generations of black teachers would be indoctrinated with his ideas.

Because Armstrong believed that blacks would continue to serve as the South's laboring class in the foreseeable future, Hampton Institute became the first school for African Americans to adopt a comprehensive system of industrial education. All students were required to labor in the school's farms and trade shops for two full days each week. The stated goal of this manual-education program was not to train skilled craftsmen but to develop "character" and to foster a spirit of self-reliance among the students. Hampton's white teachers reported that the work system helped their pupils to appreciate the dignity of labor and to understand that prosperity could be gained only through hard work.

Students' academic pursuits were closely coordinated with their work in the shops and fields. Hampton's supporters argued that "book learning" was useful to most African Americans only to the extent to which it could make them more productive and prosperous workers. Therefore, the institute's teachers emphasized only the development of "practical" skills such as writing, botany, and simple arithmetic. As a result, by the time students completed the three-year normal program, they had received educations equivalent only to grammar-school programs in the North.

To supplement the institute's academic and industrial work, Armstrong developed a system of social instruction designed to "civilize" the students. Since Hampton was primarily a boarding school, its teachers could control their students' behavior every hour of the day. In their dormitories, students received instruction in Christian morality, personal hygiene, housekeeping, and etiquette.

Above all, they learned to emulate the behavior and seek the respect of their white neighbors.

The influence of Armstrong's educational philosophy, known as the Hampton Idea, soon spread throughout the South as Booker T. Washington and hundreds of other graduates applied the lessons they had learned at the institute to their own schools. Substantial financial support from whites in the North enabled Hampton and its imitators to grow rapidly. Many whites found Hampton's pragmatic approach, with its emphasis on manual labor and self-help rather than social and political activism, enormously appealing. The institute offered the hope that the nation's "race problem" could be solved without disrupting the socioeconomic status quo. The General Education Board and other philanthropic foundations used their financial influence to guide Hampton's growth along even more conservative directions, and to encourage other schools to adopt similar curriculums. Their support helped the institute to develop into one of America's largest and wealthiest black schools, and guaranteed that the Hampton Idea would become ascendant in the field of African-American education by the start of the twentieth century.

Hampton Institute has always been criticized by African Americans who believe that it served only to perpetuate their socioeconomic subordination. The school appeared to be training its students to fill precisely the same roles that blacks held under slavery. As the Hampton Idea gained widespread support among whites, it seemed increasingly likely that industrial education would soon be the only form of schooling available to blacks. As a result, criticism of the institute grew sharper, especially among black intellectuals.

In 1903 W. E. B. Du Bois published his first major attack on industrial education, and was soon recognized as the leading critic of the Hampton Idea. While Du Bois and other critics conceded that many African Americans could benefit from "practical" education, they felt that blacks

also needed access to higher education in order to progress. They urged the institute to place greater emphasis on academics and to encourage its students to aspire to something more than life as manual laborers. They complained that in its pursuit of material prosperity and white approval, Hampton too often sacrificed black dignity.

These criticisms had little direct impact on the institute's curriculum until the 1920s. After World War I, many states embarked on crusades of educational reform and began to demand that teachers be better educated. Increasing numbers of Hampton's graduates failed to meet these higher standards. Institute officials first attempted to solve the problem by making only slight modifications to the academic program; eventually, however, they were forced to raise their admissions standards and to offer college-level courses. By 1927 over 40 percent of Hampton students were enrolled in the collegiate program. These students, who were more sympathetic to Du Bois's arguments than their predecessors had been, became increasingly critical of their school.

In 1927 a protest over a relatively minor social issue quickly grew into a general strike. Student leaders demanded that the institute raise the quality of its teaching, abolish key elements of the industrial system, hire more African Americans, and grant students an expanded role in administration. The strike was quickly crushed, but Hampton officials had no alternative but to respond to the students' demands. In 1929 the institute declared that it would no longer accept students who had not already completed high school. The following year, to emphasize its shift from Armstrong's industrial model to a more traditional program of higher education, the school formally changed its name from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute to Hampton Institute. In 1984 the schoolhaving developed into a prominent liberal-arts and teachers' college with over four thousand studentschanged its name to Hampton University.

See also Du Bois, W. E. B.; Education in the United States; Washington, Booker T.


Anderson, James D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 18601935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Lovelace, Carey. "Carrie Mae Weems at the International Center of Photography, Uptown." Art in America 89, no. 6 (June 2001): 123.

Peabody, Francis G. Education for Life: The Story of Hampton Institute. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1918.

gregory j. murphy (1996)
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