Eric A. Anderson, Alfred A. Moss Jr.. Dangerous Donations: Northern Philanthropy and Southern Black Education, 1902-1930. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1999. xv + 245 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8262-1226-9.
Reviewed by Mary Waalkes (Lee University )
Published on H-South (September, 2000)
A Matter of Perspective
A Matter of Perspective
Dangerous Donations adds to the discussion of northern philanthropy and its effects on southern black education by taking a friendlier view of northern philanthropists than recent historians have. Ultimately, one's view of the book depends on one's own perspective regarding southern education for African Americans from 1900 to 1930.
The title of the book leads one to suspect that this is another monograph pointing out the unfortunate effects of northern philanthropists' efforts to substitute industrial education for classical education for black southerners. Eric Anderson and Alfred Moss have co-written a book that sets itself as a revisionist history of northern educational philanthropy in the early decades of the twentieth century. Anderson and Moss introduce their topic by saying that they mean to explore "mixed motives and unintended consequences"(12). The authors shift the perspective from the previous emphasis on northern philanthropists as purveyors of the Tuskegee idea in education, to one in which northern philanthropists such as Robert C. Ogden were shaped by forces in the South, and limited to actions acceptable to the South. Important to this text is the evolution of ideas. Ogden and other designers of the Southern Education Board gradually moved away from an emphasis on industrial education toward a more egalitarian emphasis on decent public education for blacks in the South.
After the turn of the century, northern philanthropists noted increasing hostility from white southerners to educating blacks. The response of northern whites was to link progress for blacks with educational progress for whites. If white educational systems in the South were improved, then supposedly a more progressive type of white southerner would initiate reforms in black education. This did not happen, but appeared to northern white philanthropists to be the best they could do and still gain cooperation from southern whites in distributing educational funds.
The chapter on Ogden relates the determined opposition from many southern whites regarding northern philanthropy. It is in this chapter that Anderson and Moss take on historians such as James D. Anderson and Louis Harlan concerning their view of the northern philanthropists as caving in to pressure from southern whites. According to traditional views, Ogden and other northern players were too cautious, and too placating of the white South. Moss and Anderson refer to earlier works as too one-sided, and give evidence of reformist dialogue in letters to prove that the northern philanthropists were not simply interested in creating a docile work force in the South that would ultimately benefit their own economic interests.
Anderson and Moss provide evidence that in fact some of the southern white criticism of the Ogden movement involved the implications of education for blacks. Northern philanthropists, even if tied philosophically to industrial education for blacks, genuinely wanted to reform the South, meaning increasing black economic power in the South, and lessening the restrictive effects of Jim Crow. The Ogdenites sought a progressive educational movement in the South which reflected a belief that the South was backward and needed, through a circuitous route, to be transformed, a process which required the cooperation of southern whites. Southern whites accurately viewed education for blacks as a means of eventually upsetting white supremacy, and therefore resisted northern efforts at educational reform, even when couched in the terms of industrial education, or educating blacks to remain in their place.
The chapter on William H. Baldwin illustrates the evolution of one northern philanthropist into a more racially aware individual. Although Baldwin died before he could make a significant impact on the General Education Board, in the last two years of his life his views on reforms in the South altered to where he was more in tune with black educators than with his own fellow philanthropists. Baldwin's influence died with him, and Anderson and Moss suggest from this that Baldwin had the pull, had he lived, to change the course of the General Education Board, moving it to assist black education in a more direct manner than later occurred. Here, the authors' evidence is somewhat weak. While existing correspondence from Baldwin does suggest he offered a solid critique of southern racism at the end of his life, it is not clear what Baldwin hoped to accomplish through the education boards, or if he had a likely chance of swaying more moderate voices on the board.
Two chapters on the American Church Institute for Negroes, the philanthropic arm of the Episcopal Church, illustrate how a northern liberally-minded director, Samuel Henry Bishop, was thwarted by southern white churchmen from accomplishing much through the ACIN. When Bishop was replaced with a moderate white southerner, Robert W. Patton, the work of the ACIN was accepted in the South. The point of these two chapters are to underline the book's thesis that the northern philanthropists were not free to accomplish more liberal goals in the South because southern whites had the power to prevent them from making changes in southern black education.
Dangerous Donations is valuable in that the book emphasizes the limitations of northern philanthropists in convincing white southerners to accept educational reform for blacks in the South. The view of northern philanthropists in Dangerous Donations is closer to one that they probably held of themselves and of the problems they encountered in trying to administer funds to the South. Within the context of Ogden's and Baldwin's racial understanding, they operated to bring education to southern blacks and whites, hoping to ease racial tensions by so doing. As a revisionist work, Dangerous Donations is not fully convincing. However well intentioned Ogden and Baldwin were, they had long tenures as Hampton and Tuskegee administrators. They may well have begun a progressive trek to better racial understanding, but on whose scale? Measured against where they had been, we can accept that their racial views evolved. Measured against the thinking of black educators such as W. E. B. Du Bois and against the need in the South, their progress is less impressive. Anderson and Moss acknowledge this, "...the northerners involved in the educational revival generally held views different from the most liberal contemporary northern opinion, as well as from present-day antiracist thought"(53). This is what essentially renders this account both valuable and somewhat limited.
James Anderson's book The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, ought to be read in conjunction with Dangerous Donations, for Anderson's portrait of philanthropists as manipulators of southern education is too well documented not to read as counterbalance to Moss and Anderson. One cannot get around the philanthropists' heavy-handed dealings at Fort Valley Industrial School, where black principal John W. Davison was fired and black trustees were maneuvered out of their positions in order to remake Fort Valley into a Hampton- or Tuskegee-type of school. Similar dealings with southern states and county training schools also reinforce the view of northern philanthropists as individuals insistent on one form of education, to the detriment of the black population. To the extent that northern philanthropists promoted a deficient educational system, they helped to perpetuate the wide gulf in academic skills between whites and blacks that continues to haunt the South.
One of the points of Dangerous Donations is that northern philanthropists after 1915 saw industrial education as a worthy goal for all education, and that our understanding of their push for this kind of education in the South must be seen in the context of a wider educational movement. Perhaps so, but there were racist elements in how industrial education was sold by northern philanthropists to white southerners. Encouraging blacks to remain in menial positions hardly seems to have been consistent with reform, yet this is what philanthropists told southern whites that industrial education would do for the South. Again, The Education of Blacks in the South provides ample illustrations of the way educational reform was used in the South in a racist manner.
Vocational education in the South usually meant teaching menial work that was useless in furthering the economic status of blacks, and which hindered more appropriate attention to academic subjects. As Moss and Anderson point out, southern blacks did receive more education by 1930, and were more literate than they had been in 1900. But how literate were they? The influence of northern philanthropists seems in part to have been to encourage shoddy educational practices under the guise of progressive reforms and appeasing southern whites. Ultimately the question is what kind of education did black southerners get as a result of northern philanthropic efforts, and what alternative to this was there. Can we, in part, lay the burden of inadequate education for southern African Americans at the feet of people like Ogden, Baldwin, and Peabody? Fear of southern white opposition no doubt did limit northern philanthropists in their efforts in the South, and Dangerous Donations shows the tightrope northern philanthropists walked in trying out their educational reforms with a hostile audience, but the evidence elsewhere also suggests that their strong emphasis on industrial education was their own donation to southern education. This inability to see the futility of industrial education as a means of lifting a race out of illiteracy and poverty was perhaps the most "dangerous donation" of all.
. James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 119-132, 203-227.
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