Industrial Training for African Americans

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Industrial Training for African Americans


The Head, the Hand, the Heart. Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute was the first of the Negro training schools founded by northern philanthropy on the principle that no education is complete which does not train the hand to work. At Hampton, established in 1868 and located in Virginia, founder Gen. Samuel Armstrong of the Freedmens Bureau popularized a practical curriculum industrial and agricultural education for both former slaves and American Indians. Armstrongs aim was to train selected youth who should go out and teach and lead their people, and his school provided experimental stations for agriculture, a building for domestic science study, and a trade school administered by the Worcester School of Technology. The innovative approach of combining traditional learning with trade education to showcase the possibilities of the Negro race attracted significant attention in the late 1870s. It was not unusual for several hundred northern tourists a day to visit the school, which was located in an area where only fifteen years earlier it had been illegal to teach a black person to read. Among the teachers working at Hampton were graduates of several of the most prestigious schools of the day, including Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Williams, Amherst, and Yale.

Tuskegee Institute. Booker T. Washington, perhaps Hamptons most famous graduate, helped popularize the agricultural/industrial curriculum by establishing a second training school at Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1881. Washington, who credited Hampton as having advanced my literary education, trained me to continuous and intelligent work with my hands, and awakened in me genuine respect for labor, was recommended for the position by his mentor, General Armstrong. In Macon County, Alabama, a pan of the Black Belt (named for its rich soil), the area was populated by forty-five hundred whites and three times as many blacks. Washington said he created a curriculum at Tuskegee adjusted to the actual needs of the people rather than to their theoretical needs, a course of study that would demand that all students, no matter how well-to-do their parents may be, learn a trade as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. This requirement originally raised a storm of protest, but soon thirty-six industries were offered at Tuskegee and a steady stream of students poured in not only from the Alabama Black Belt but from Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Critics. A significant number of African American intellectuals from the North strenuously objected to the type of education offered by industrial/agricultural institutes such as Hampton and Tuskegee. W. E. B. Du Bois, a prominent educator, argued publicly as early as the late 1890s that his race must be educated to be what we can be, not what somebody else wants us to be. Calling the Hampton curriculum educational heresy, Du Bois insisted that necessary as it is to earn a living, it is more necessary and important to earn a life. Du Bois contrasted the aim of higher education the development of powerwith that of the aim of industrial trainingthe development of manual skills. He began a public debate over the propriety of segregated education with Washington that raged for several decades Du Boiss eloquent and bitter rhetoric contrasting dramatically with Washingtons polite persuasion. Washington had the support of powerful white philanthropists such as George Foster Peabody and Wallace Buttrick, who believed that industrial training was the appropriate form of schooling to assist in bringing racial order, political stability, and material prosperity to the South. Therefore, Washingtons vision for industrial and agricultural education, supported by both southern white legislators and the financially influenzai philanthropists, was fully realized at Tuskegee during the 1890s.


Public attention was turned to the problems of I urban tenement living in 1890 when New York reporter Jacob Riis published How the Other Half Lives. Riis motivateci significant reform movements when he wrote about the premature deaths of children doomed by the unsanitary conditions of the slums. His description of little coffins stacked mountain-high on the deck of the Charity Commissioners boat when it rnakes its semi-weekly trips to the city cemetery riveted the reading public. Warning that the rescue of children is the key to the problem of city poverty, Riis insisted that the slums must be fought with sunlight and flowers and play, which their child I hearts crave, if their eyes have never seen them. Vacation schools for poor urban children were a partial answer to Riiss call. The first was established in Boston in 1885, followed by New York in 1894 and Cleveland and Brooklyn in 1897. In 1898 Chicago established what would become a model vacation school system. Chicagos program, designed by John Dewey, included excursions to the country, drawing and painting from nature, music, gymnastics and games, sewing, and manual training. When the first I Chicago children got off the railroad at the end of the line, they crawled on their hands and knees to feel the ill-smelling and dusty chickweed of the country soil for the first time. Vacation schools were popular with citizens of all political persuasions: some approved the moral rightness of I rescuing children from the vast human pig sties I that were the slums; others felt their value was in leaving no boy or girl with unoccupied time, free to roam the streets with no friendly hand to guide them, save that of the polke.

Sources: Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives (New York: Harper, 1890), pp. 33, 166167;

Joel H. Spring, Education and the Rise of the Corporate State (Boston: Beacon, 1972), pp. 6268.


Harry S Ashmore, The Negro and the Schools (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954), pp. 1329;

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Education of Black People (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973), pp. 513;

Edgar W. Knight, Public Education in the South (Boston: Ginn, 1922), pp.420435;

Truman Pierce, White and Negro Schools in the South: An Analysis of Biracial Education (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1955), pp.1743.

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Industrial Training for African Americans

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