. Miseducation and the New Slavery | Ceasefire Magazine

Miseducation and the New Slavery On Corporate Power

Ruling class philanthropists have maintained a long history of subsuming educational needs to capitalist growth prerogatives. In his latest column, Michael Barker looks at how industrial education served as “a major force in the subjugation of black labour in the New South” in the United States.

New in Ceasefire, On Corporate Power - Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 4:22 - 3 Comments


Virginia Hall, The Hampton Institute (photo: www.bluffton.edu)

Ruling class philanthropists have maintained a long history of subsuming educational needs to capitalist growth prerogatives. Learning from this toxic history is imperative, which is why Donald Spivey’s contribution, Schooling for the New Slavery: Black Industrial Education, 1868-1915 (Greenwood Press, 1978), is so important.

In this book Spivey examined how industrial education served as “a major force in the subjugation of black labor in the New South” in the United States, paying particular attention to the influence of Northern industrialists-cum-philanthropists who guided such “progress.” [1]

A good place to begin is with the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau at the end of the Civil War. Ostensibly set-up to aid and protect freedmen, the Bureau actually served “as a conservative bulwark against black self-assertion.” This however did not mean that all of the white men staffing the Bureau acted to circumscribe black freedom, and Charles B. Wilder – who was appointed the first superintendent of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Hampton, Virginia – was just one exception who “sided with the blacks in their complaints and paid for it.”

Indeed, Wilder’s commitment to black freedom, not servitude, meant he was soon ousted from his position and replaced by a “strong supporter of  Bureau philosophy and policy,” General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Here was the ideal man for the job: “Freedmen as a class,” General Armstrong declared, “are destitute of ambition; their complacency in poverty and filth is a curse; discontent would lead to determined effort and a better life.” [2]

By the end of 1867 Armstrong had moved into the educational arena. The General had arrived at the opinion that the freedmen presented a problem that could only be solved through proper schooling. The “only thing is to educate them [blacks] ,” he declared; “there is no other escape from a fearful band of evils that their ignorance will otherwise entail upon the country.” (p.11)

To impart the requisite education upon blacks, in 1868, General Armstrong with the aid of the Freedman Bureau and the American Missionary Association founded the Hampton Normal Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

Through industrial education, the General hoped to control the blacks, not raise them to a level of parity with whites. Armstrong proceeded with the greatest amount of care. “The darky,” he confided, “is an ugly thing to manage.” He was careful to give his students a limited education, just enough to fit them to their prescribed station in society and no more. “Over education” the Founder defined as one of the salient “dangers with the weak races. … For the average [black] pupil,” he contended, “too much is as bad as too little.” (p.26)

Sadly, the Hampton Institute proved a huge success in providing an education for a new form of slavery, and since ninety percent of its graduates became teachers, its “influence on the black race [was] profound,” with their teachers “carry[ing] the Hampton idea to every sinew of the black South.”

It should come as no surprise that the “institute’s list of friends included some of the harshest white supremacists in the South.” [3] But the Hampton Institute found its most influential proponent of industrial education to Armstrong’s “star pupil,” a black man known as Booker T. Washington, who founded his own school, based on the Hampton model, in Alabama in 1881: this school was known as the Tuskegee Institute.

There were however important differences between Tuskegee and Hampton, perhaps the most critical being that Tuskegee’s faculty staff, while “imitative of whites” was nevertheless black “and not the omnipotent authority symbol that, for example, Hampton’s all-white staff was to its students.”

This led to some degree of alienation of Washington’s students, which in 1903 led to a student strike; while “from 1905 to [Washington’s] death in 1915, faculty members alluded to a growing student hostility against them. They became fearful for their personal safety, believing that weapons and ready to use them.” [4] It was for such reasons that…

Washington and Tuskegee did not gain the full support of the white South during his lifetime. As was the case with the black overseer in the antebellum South, there were those who would never believe that a black could be trusted to oversee his fellow blacks to the best interests of whites. In Up From Slavery, Washington grossly misstated the white response to his educational efforts in Macon County when he wrote that the “Tuskegee school at the present time has no warmer and more enthusiastic friends anywhere than it has among the white citizens of Tuskegee and throughout the state of Alabama and the entire South.” The evidence suggests a different interpretation. (p.64)

It was because of the hostility of the capitalists in the white South to the Tuskegee Institute’s presence that Washington was forced to rely primarily upon Northern philanthropists to maintain his operations in the South. Industrial education for blacks was seen as a priority for Northern industrial magnates with the end of the Civil War, which as Spivey notes, “marked the triumph of Northern capitalism over Southern capitalism.” [5]

Northern money began flowing South in earnest when Robert Ogden was elected president of the Conference on Southern Education, replacing J.L.M. Curry who had died in 1903.

Unlike Armstrong, Ogden did not have any missionary interest in helping blacks save themselves from themselves. Industrial schooling, as he saw it, could help make a more reliable, more stable, and more efficient black labor force. If he could put his ideas into words and gain a platform, he knew that he could obtain financial backing. Samuel Chapman Armstrong had spoken the lingo of a missionary. Ogden would speak to Northern capitalists as a Northern capitalist. (pp.83-4)

The Southern Education Board which was established in 1901 by Ogden as the executive branch of the Conference on Southern Education remained independent for one year before becoming “unofficially incorporated with a newly established body, the Rockefeller-sponsored General Education Board.” [6]

It is understandable that Rockefeller was very concerned with the Southern scene. It was quite in keeping with the efforts by big business in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to expand and monopolize and tinge it all with corporate liberalism, that Northern magnates like Rockefeller attempted to stabilize the South. (p.91)

In 1902, railroad magnate William H. Baldwin, Jr. acted as the founding chairman of the General Education Board, and as Baldwin noted in 1899: “Negroes must not be educated out of their natural environment.”

Moreover, he was was quick to recognize the capital value of education, adding that, “The potential economic value of the Negro population properly educated is infinite and incalculable. In the Negro is the opportunity of the South.” [7]

African-Americans line up at the Freedmens’ Bureau office. (photo: www.latinamericanstudies.org)

In 1905, Baldwin was then succeeded at the General Education Board by Robert Ogden. In 1907, the role was passed onto John D. Rockefeller’s chief philanthropic advisor, Frederick T. Gates – who had also been one  of the first directors of the Southern Education Board and whose father George F. Gates “was an old Ogden associate.” These were the type of men that Washington felt comfortable with, and it was appropriate that, “After the death of Samuel Chapman Armstrong, Baldwin became Washington’s new mentor, his closest white adviser.” [8]

Understandably, then, Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute (and Hampton Institute) received the full backing of the General Education Board, but not without strings attached. Tuskegee’s finances were controlled and carefully monitored by the GEB. The board had the school’s educational program under careful surveillance. This was unnecessary, however, for Tuskegee and its Founder’s devotion to the industrial education idea was total…” (p.95)

One might add that the Northern industrialists saw the wide applicability of industrial education for blacks, and with the constant need for cheap menial labor and domestic service in the North they “considered developing schools similar to Hampton and Tuskegee in the North.” [9]

Similarly, the model of industrial miseducation was considered eminently suitable for export to Africa; an issue Spivey explores in the final chapter of his book, and in his subsequent study, The Politics of Miseducation: The Booker Washington Institute of Liberia, 1929-1984 (University Press of Kentucky, 1986).

Indeed, ironically the “earliest interest” in adopting the Washington model in Liberia actually came in 1879 by the black Pan-Africanist Edward Wilmot Blyden. As Spivey points out: “Blyden failed to discern the actual contradictions between the goals of industrial education and African autonomy.” [10] Indeed, like many other Pan-Africanists he was…

… fooled by the Tuskegee image of self-help. With its black principal and all-black staff, Tuskegee seemed a fine example of black autonomy. Little did most Pan-Africanists realize that the monies that gave Tuskegee life and lifted it to prominence came from whites rather than blacks.. (p.110)


[1] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.ix.
[2] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.3, p.5, p.6, p.8.
[3] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.32, p.36. There was of course resistance to the ideals of the Hampton Institute from the schools students, which is amply documented by Spivey: for instance, one former student observed that “If Negroes don’t get any better education than Armstrong is giving them,” [William Roscoe] Davis warned, “they may as well have stayed in slavery.” (p.36)

[4] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.58, p.62, pp.60-1. “The material on the strike, and it is extremely sketchy, does indicate that the participants objected to the entire Tuskegee order of things. They wanted more academic training, better instruction, more opportunity to learn trades, and an easing of rules and regulations. Washington’s response was undiluted: ‘No concessions. ‘” (p.62)

[5] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.71.

[6] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.90.

[7] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.93.

[8] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.90, p.95. Other initial officers and members of the General Education Fund as listed in The General Education Board: An Account of its Activities, 1902-1914, were as follows: Secretary – Wallace Buttrick (1902-); Assistant Secretaries – William H. Heck (1903-5), Ebden Charles Gage (1905-), Abraham Flexner (1913-); Treasurer – George Foster Peabody (1902-9), Louis G. Myers (1910-); Assistant Treasurer – L. M. Dashell (1914-); Members – William H. Baldwin (1902-5), J.L.M. Curry (1902-3), Frederick T. Gates (1902-), Daniel C. Gilman (1902-8), Morris K. Jesup (1902-8), Robert C. Ogden (1902-13), Walter H. Page (1902-), George Foster Peabody (1902-12), John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1902-), Albert Shaw (1902-), Wallace Buttrick (1902-), Starr J. Murphy (1904-), William R. Harper (1905-6), Hugh H. Hanna (1905-12), E. Benjamin Andrews (1905-12), Edwin A. Alderman (1906-), Hollis B. Frissell (1906-), Harry Pratt Judson (1906-), Charles W. Eliot (1908-), Andrew Carnegie (1908-), Edgar L. Marston (1909-), Wickliffe Rose (1910-), Jerome D. Greene (1912-), Anson Phelps Stokes (1912-), Abraham Flexner (1914-), George E. Vincent (1914-). Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, pp.91-2.

[9] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.97. “Robert Curtis Ogden postulated [in May 1903] that there existed a vast field for domestic employment in New York: ‘The English, Irish, French and Swiss are holding places in domestic service in this city [New York] that would naturally belong to the colored people…’” (p.97)

[10] Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery, p.109, p.110.

Michael Barker is a researcher and activist. His ‘On Corporate Power’ column appears monthly in Ceasefire. He tweets at @mbarker_mike


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Michael James Barker’s Weblog
Oct 25, 2011 8:35

[…] Miseducation and the New Slavery, Ceasefire Magazine, October 25, 2011. […]

Oct 25, 2011 16:32

fantastic piece – an issue rarely written on

White Philanthropy For Black (Mis)education | Wrong Kind of Green | the NGOs & conservation groups that are bargaining away our future
Aug 24, 2012 2:37

[…] Of Watkins’ architects of Black education, “none is more important than Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839-1893)” — an individual who “was an effective and farsighted social, political, and economic theorist working for the cause of a segregated and orderly South.” Having served as a missionary and solider; in 1865, following the end of the Civil War, Armstrong joined the Freedman’s Bureau, and a few years later (as their operations were wound down, owing to white opposition), he went on to found the Hampton Institute. […]

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