The Black American has been confronted with a series of problemsunknown to the great majority of Americans. Although the nature of such problems has changed with the passage of time, in the field of education it has often seemed that the solution of one problem has simply created a new one. In the 1970s Blacks may be faced with several new problems in the area of education, the contours of which are only now emerging. Finding solutions to these problems will certainly test the quality and commitment of American leadership, both Black and White.
Urbanization has tended to erase many of the differences which used to distinguish one region or state from another. As this occurs, it is evident that many of the problems confronting Floridians are also facing the rest of the nation as well. Should Florida take the lead in solving some of these problems, the rest of the nation might well benefit from the experience. Before turning to an analysis of these problems in the area of Black education in Florida, an excursion into the Black experience in education with emphasis on Florida may help to provide a clearer understanding of some of these contemporary problems.
Black Man in a White Man’s Country
Prior to the Civil War there were no schools in Florida for the education of Blacks. On the contrary, the laws which had been passed to keep the Black man in his place and to prevent any organized uprising of slaves made the establishment of such schools impossible. As early as 1832, while Florida was still a Territory, a law was enacted prohibiting Negroes to congregate for any purpose except for work or attend divine worship at any place attended by white persons. In 1846, a year after it became a state, the Legislature passed a somewhat similar but even more stringent law.
The contrast between the North and the South prior to the Civil War on the question of education for the Blacks is striking. Not only were there schools for the Blacks in the North, but as early as 1837 a suit was brought asking that a school in Boston be integrated.
One of the earliest and most interesting analyses of the education problems facing the Negro was made by the Black leader, Frederick Douglass. It is significant not only in the fact that the point of view would find adherents for years to come, but also because it anticipated the view of Booker T. Washington by over forty years. Douglass drew a distinction, which also ought to be kept in mind today, between education and schooling. It is, after all, quite possible, as in the case of Douglass, for education to occur without much formal schooling. Indeed, it is conceivable that situations exist in which schooling acts as a deterrent to the education of the individual.
Speaking candidly to his people, Douglass noted, “three things are notoriously true of us as a people. These are POVERTY, IGNORANCE, AND DEGRADATION. . . . These constitute the social disease of the Free Colored people in the United States.” That the Black man might enjoy the promise of the Declaration of Independence, Douglass asked “for no fancied or artificial elevation, but only . . . fair play. The immediate need was not high schools and colleges. Such institutions are, in my judgment, beyond our immediate occasions, and are not adapted to our present most pressing wants. High schools and colleges are excellent institutions, and will, in due season, be greatly subservient to our progress; but they are the result, as well as they are the demand of a point of progress, which we, as a people, have not yet attained. Accustomed, as we have been, to the rougher and harder modes of living, and of gaining a livelihood, we cannot, and we ought not to hope that, in a single leap from our low condition, we can reach that of Ministers, Lawyers, Doctors, Editors, Merchants, etc. These will, doubtless, be attained by us; but will only be, when we have patiently and laboriously, and I may add successfully, mastered and passed through the intermediate gradation of agriculture and the mechanical arts.”
There were already, Douglass argued, more colleges open to the Negroes in the free States than they could meaningfully make use of. The Black man, he believed, had little need of a classical education. Some Blacks had gone into the ministry, “but you need not be told that an educated people is needed to sustain an educated ministry. There must he a certain amount of cultivation among the people to sustain such a ministry.” Douglass noted that “At present, we have not that cultivation amongst us; and therefore, we value, in the preacher, strong lungs, rather than high learning.” Although there were some Negro lawyers they found it difficult to get work. If they were men of and ability, and Douglass cited several cases to make his point, they simply left the country.
Interestingly enough, in the light of later notions of giving each Black man “forty acres and a mule,” the first great leader of the Negroes did not think that, on the whole, agriculture offered a solution to the Black man’s social and economic problems, “because it is impossible to get the colored men to go on the land.” This was because of our want of self-reliance. Slavery more than all things else, robs its victims of self-reliance. To go into the western wilderness, and there to lay the foundation of future society, requires more of that important quality than a life of slavery has left us.” In candor, Douglass admitted that “This may sound strange to you, coming as it does from a colored man, but I am dealing with the facts, and these never accommodate themselves to the feelings or wishes of any.
With equal realism Douglass denied that colonization of the Blacks in some other country would ever work, even if it were deemed desirable. “This black manunlike the Indianloves civilization. He does not make very great progress in civilization himself but he likes to be in the midst of it, and prefers to share its most galling evils, to encountering barbarianism. . . . Individuals emigratenations never.”
The answer, as Douglass saw it, was to build an “Industrial College” in which to develop the mechanical arts. This would enable the Black man to show the White man what he could accomplish.
The fact that we make no show of our ability is held conclusive proof of our inability to make any, hence all the indifference and contempt with which incapacity is regarded, fall upon us, and that too, when we have no means of disproving the infamous opinion of our natural inferiority. I have during the last dozen years denied before the Americans that we are an inferior race; but this has been done by arguments based upon admitted principles rather than by the presentation of facts. . . . The most telling, the most killing refutation of slavery, is the presentation of an industrious, enterprising, thrifty, and intelligent black population.
Although Douglass could not be aware of it at the time, his analysis covered most of the issues which were to plague the Black man’s efforts to educate himself during the century to follow.
In Florida the Civil War opened up the possibility of change. In 1882 Union forces occupied Fernandina, and the Freedmen’s Aid Society established a school in the town. This was the beginning of a program to help with Black education and which grew, considerably after the War was over. Other philanthropic and religious groups such as the African Civilization Society, the Home Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the New York branch of the American Freedmen’s Union Commission set up schools throughout the State. By the end of 1885, thirty such schools were in operation. Most of the teachers were Northern women who had come south to help the Blacks.
In 1866 the number of schools had risen from 30 to 65; the number of teachers employed from 19 to 45; and the enrollment of students from 1,900 to 2,726. The subjects taught included “easy reading, writing, spelling, and simple arithmetic.” By the end of 1868 there were 54 schools employing 61 teachers, 37 of whom were Black, with a total of 2,182 pupils enrolled.
The Constitution of 1868 established a common school system. Conditions in the State, however, hindered the implementation of many of the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution of 1885 stated that “White and colored children shall not be taught in the state school, but impartial provision shall be made for both.” Despite this promise the number of teachers and schools for whites during the 1880s and early 90s was about three times those of the Blacks, who constituted about 47% of the population of the State.
During these years another source of aid to Black education in the South was the Peabody Educational Fund, established by George Foster Peabody, a wealthy philanthropist from Massachusetts. Between 1867 and 1880 the policies and administration of the Fund were chiefly under the direction of the Rev. Barnas Sears. Although both, races were ostensibly to share in the proceeds from the Fund, Negro schools received a disproportionably small share of the money which was also available for teacher training. From 1868 to 1884 the State of Florida received $68,700 from the Fund, primarily to White schools and teachers, though in one year, 1869, $6,500 was given to Negro schools.”
The Fund was used to support a private system of white schools in Louisiana, and it also opposed some of the civil rights legislation passed by the Federal government. These policies were the result of Sears” view that while social progress required universal education, such progress must not, however, be imposed by legislation, hut rather reflect the growth of popular sentiment. This outlook “led Sears to regard the favor and support of southern whites, especially the leadership class, as essential Temporary discriminates toward the Negro could, therefore, he justified in order to achieve long range justice.”
In reality, such compromises, which characterized the entire spectrum of race relations during the last several decades of the nineteenth century, meant that educationally the Blacks fell farther behind than ever. It was, indeed, the “nadir” of the Negro experience in America. It was no small accomplishment simply to survive and endure as a people.
Perhaps the one bright spot in Black education during these years was the establishment, in 1887, of a state normal school at Tallahassee. First known as the Colored Normal School, in 1909 it was changed to Florida agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes, and, finally, in 1953, to Florida A & M University.
When the school opened in 1887 it had a grand total of fifteen Students. Two men, the President, Thomas De Saille Tucker, a graduate of Oberlin College, and his first Assistant, Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs, bore the burden of managing the school through its formative years. Gibbs, the son of an early School Superintendent and Secretary of State during Reconstruction, Jonathan C. Gibbs, as a Representative from Duval county had pushed the bill establishing the school through the State legislature.
By the mid-1890s student enrollment had risen to 92 females and 86 males. The expenses of attending the school ran to a little better than #T a month. The budget for salaries was $6,100, divided in the following manner:
President Tucker, Classics and Rhetorics
|W. A. Cuppage, Agriculture||1,000|
|T.V. Gibbs, First Assistant and Mathematics||1,000|
|F.F. Jones, English||600|
|P.Von Weller, Music||200|
|D. W. Onley, Mannual Training||800|
|T.W. Talley, Science||600|
|E.B. Tucker, Dairy Teacher||300|
|Malinda Anderson, Matron||400|
The curriculum of the school reflected the vocational educational philosophy advocated forty years before by Frederick Douglass and made popular in the 1890”s by the Negro leader and educator, Booker T. Washington, at his own school, Tuskegee Institute. Tucker, who advocated a liberal arts program, lost his position as a result in 1901. The State gave little to support the school, especially after it acquired funds under the Morrill Act. Thus, in 1895.96 the budget was $23,581, of which the State contributed only $3,806.71.
This education “on the cheap” undercut something of the quality level of the program offered by the school. Commenting on the condition of the school as of 1905, T. E. Cochran noted that while some “progress” had been made, “it was not yet a college, but a good secondary school, with industrial, agricultural, home-economics, and teacher-training features.”
In his History of Public School Education in Florida, written shortly after the end of World War I, T. E. Cochran summarized the data on Negro schools in the State as of 191718, the last year for which statistics were then available:
The number of public free schools in Florida for negro children was only 837, or less than 30 per cent of the total number, though the negro children of school age (6 to 21 years of age) constituted nearly 40 per cent of the total school population. The percent of the negro school population enrolled in the public elementary and secondary schools was only 50; and the percent in daily attendance, 35. The average length of the school term was but 102 days; the average number of days attended by each negro child of school age, 35.7; and the average number of days attended by each 100 enrolled, 71.4. The number of negro teachers employed was but 1,288, or about one fifth of the total number; and nearly one-half of these held only third class certificates, representing preparation less than usually given in the eighth grade. The value of negro school property was only $725,455, or less than 7 per cent of the total value. The amount spent for negro education was but $443,600, this being about 5 per cent of the total expenditure, and but $3.59 for each negro child of school age. And finally, the average annual salary for negro teachers was only about $181.
Even if one grants that the South was the most impoverished section of the nation during these years, and that the overall educational effort in Florida was poor, (the State was in 37th place of 48 states) the proportion spent on Black education was hardly a fulfillment of the “impartial provision shall be made for both” promise of the Constitution of 1885.
And things were scarcely better for Black Floridians in the 1920s. The Depression hit Florida early, ushered in by the Bust which followed the hurricane of 1926. Only with the coming of World War II did some measure of prosperity return to the Sunshine State.
During these years Negro education saw little improvement. D. E. Williams, who borne State Agent (Supervisor) for Negro schools in 1927, has described the buildings which served as schools in Broward County:
It is very difficult for people to realize today that school was conducted in such buildings. Drinking water, sanitary toilets, desks, blackboards, sufficient textbooks, library hooks, a good heater and fuel were lacking in many of these schools. Pews and benches often substituted for desks. Water was brought in bottles and jugs by children or was gotten in a bucket from a so-called spring near the school. School officials were reluctant to provide pumps because people would steal them. Often trees and bushes served for toilets, and surface privies when provided were so filthy that children preferred to use the bushes. Toilet tissue and washing facilities were not provided in most schools. Wide planed boards painted black served as chalkboards.
The end of World War II brought new opportunities to Black Floridians. Under the direction of the Southern Regional Educational Board, “Florida participated in a plan to provide professional education in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science in schools outside the state. To 1964 the state had paid Out slightly over half a million dollars for this purpose, but the quotas allowed Florida Negroes were never filled.
In 1949 the first Junior College for Blacks was opened at Pensacola. In 1957 a second one was established in St. Petersburg, and others soon followed. Beginning in 1962 these were integrated with the White Junior Colleges, while at the same time the State Universities and professionals schools were also desegregated. It appeared that at last Black Floridians would have a chance at opportunities for higher education denied them for so many years.
From Desegregation to Integration
Desegregation, of course, did not come easily. The turning point was the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education in 1954, which reversed the segregationist position enunciated in 1896 in Plessy vs. Ferguson. Desegregation did not occur after the decision. In. stead Florida and the rest of the South developed delaying tactics which dragged on into the 1980”s.
At the same time Black Americans were fighting for civil rights across a broad area of activities, of which education was only a part. The South’s refusal to desegregate willingly meant that the Federal government became engaged in forcing the issue. The resulting policy would differ considerably from what might have been accepted earlier. At this juncture some definition of terms is in order so that the reader understands the two distinct concepts under examination.
Historically, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out, the basic American commitment has been to equality, both of opportunity and before the law. Such a belief accepts the idea of differences in wealth and status, and is not synonymous with, but rather the opposite of egalitarianism, the desire to level according to some formula, and thus do away with differences of wealth and status.
Desegregation and integration are related in concept to equality and egalitarianism. Desegregation, like equality implies that an individual have an opportunity to choose for himself, and does not deny that differences may therefore remain. Like egalitarianism, integration suggests a formula, which not only means the active intervention of governmental power, but an effort to eradicate some aspects of human differentiation.
The late 1960’s and early 1970’s saw the increased movement toward integration in which School Boards in Florida either submitted plans involving such formula to the Federal government or found the Courts presenting them with a formula.
There have been some gains in Black achievement in the carrying out of this policy, but advocates seldom discuss the long run potential problems growing out of integration. In addition, it is ironic that while such advocates frequently criticize the work of Arthur Jensen and others who have dealt with achievement tests, they also resort to citing achievement scores when the results are favorable.”
It is undeniable that integration, especially the busing of White students into formerly predominantly Black schools in lower class areas, has resulted in increased tensions and violence. In Florida, a number of such incidents occurred during the 197273 school year. In addition, the Dade County Grand Jury recently issued a Report which stressed the need for security guards to cope with the rising level of violence in the schools. Integration may be worth the high cost of embittered relations between Blacks and Whites, but some of the cost and problems which it raise ought to be examined “with some care.”
In doing away with Black schools it became necessary to redistribute Black school administrators throughout a given school system. Evidence seems to indicate that after a few years there are fewer Black administrators in a given school system than had previously been the case. There is thus a net loss in the areas within which Blacks can develop leadership experience.
Members of the Black community other than Black Nationalists such as the Black Panthers are becoming aware of this problem. A recent study by Christopher Jencks has suggested that both schooling and achievement tests are less significant in success than has heretofore been thought. What Jencks terms “luck” is in actuality those aspects of character, hard work, leadership, and entrepreneurship which used to be called “the Protestant Ethic.”
It is interesting that a recent study favoring integration did mention that “Male black managers, owners, and proprietors tend to come from segregated schools.”
It may be that not only does an integrated school situation deprive Black youth of Black adult models among the teachers upon which they can model their behavior, it also provides fewer positions into which Black youth can enter and develop their leadership potential.
At the University level integration often maintains a double standard. Universities attempt to recruit Blacks in order to develop a percentage of students relative to the percentage of Blacks within the society as a whole. As long as predominantly Black schools such as Florida A&M are maintained, it is doubtful that there will ever be enough Blacks to fill the quotas in predominantly White schools. But are the Blacks in Florida willing to face the logic of eventually integrating Florida A&M to the point that is a predominantly White institution?
In may be that the whole syndrome of recruiting “minority group students now sweeping American Universities is off the mark. On April 1, 1973, the New York Times reported. . . .
The Government said this week that in 1972, for the first time, the percentage of black and other minority race high school graduates who enrolled in college was roughly the same as for white graduates.
The Labor Departments Bureau of Labor Statistics said that its statistics showed that 49.4 percent of the white and 47.6 percent of the black and other minority high school graduates of last June enrolled in college by last October. It said the 1.8 differential was “statistically insignificant.”
In 1988, the college enrollment rate was 56.6 percent for white high school graduates, and 46.2 for Negroes and other minorities.
This policy of favoring “minority” groups has been characterized as one of “reverse” discrimination.
Some attacks against it have already been launched. Such a policy is fundamentally a denial of the idea of equality of opportunity which has formed the core of the American experience. Should it continue, it is predictable that the opposition to it will also increase. The vagueness of the term “minority” students is also of interest. On most campuses tins seems to mean Blacks and women. Other minority groups such as Chinese and Latinos, some of whom do suffer from language problems, seem more intent on scholastic achievement than on involving themselves in the politics of minority affairs.
Unfortunately, one cannot do justice to this subject in a short essay, for it really demands almost a book. This much can be said: Florida, along with other states will, sometime within the 1970”s, face a crisis growing out of some of the unintended results of a policy of forced governmental integration. As some of the adverse results become clear, it is important that the Black community be given the opportunity and the means to chose a system of education which they believe suits their needs, and which is historically compatible with American ideas of equality of opportunity. It ought not be a policy foisted upon them by well-intentioned, but guilt-ridden Whites.
For further articles and studies, please see OnPower.org.
William Marina was a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University.