“Our Little Circle”: Benevolent Reformers,The Slater Fund, and The Argument For Black Industrial Education,1882-1908

 

ROY E. FINKENBINE

 

Volume VI, Number 1
Fall, 1986

            The events of the Civil War years transformed some four million Black slaves into free men and women.  Yet, ninety-six percent of the remained illiterate.  The vast majority lacked any working knowledge of the American political political process or the southern economy beyond the rudiments required to complete the day-to-day tacks of plantation agriculture.  Immediately after the war, the Freedmen’s Bureau and several northern Protestant missionary organizations embarked on the business of creating an educational system for the freedman’s community.  A concern for Black literacy and a rudimentary education in the liberal arts dominated these initial efforts.  But by the time the last federal troops left the South in 1877, this early movement for freedmen’s education had become moribund – the Freedmen’s Bureau was defunct, the northern missionary enthusiasm was waning, and southern state and local governments were rapidly abandoning their responsibilities for freedman’s education.  In this less than fertile ground, northern white philanthropy soon represented one of the few remaining avenues of hope. 1

 

            After Reconstruction ended, both southern white leaders and northern philanthropists sought a curriculum for Black schools that would help alleviate racial tension, encourage sectional harmony, and prepare the freedmen for their role in the emerging New South society.  The industrial education model advocated by accommodationist Black leader Booker T. Washington appeared to be designed to meet those ends.  As a result, the aforementioned leaders generally encouraged the movement toward industrial education that occurred in Black schools during the last two decades of the nineteenth century.  Foremost among the northern philanthropic funds championing this change was the Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen.

 

            John Fox Slater, a Connecticut industrialist, established the Slater Fund in 1882.  Motivated by a belief that education was vital if recently-emancipated southern Blacks were to become responsible participants in the political process, convinced that support for Black education could not be expected from southern whites, and aroused by the moderate success of the Peabody Fund – which had been created in 1867 to assist southern schools – Slater donated one million dollars “for uplifting the lately emancipated population of the Southern states.”  To implement this goal, he named a distinguished board to administer his endowment and he allowed the members a free hand in setting the policies and practices of the Fund.  Slater asked only that the monies of the Fund be distributed “in no partisan, sectional, or sectarian spirit.”2

 

            Anxious to meet their charge, members of the board met in late 1882 to establish objectives and procedures for the Slater Fund.  This original board included a former president of the United States, the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, a leading southern politician, two prominent Protestant clergymen, one of the foremost temperance advocates, two wealthy bankers, a university president, and Slater’s son.  Among their initial actions, members of the board selected Methodist clergyman Atticus G. Haygood of Georgia to be their general agent.  A noted author, editor, preacher, and the president of Emory College, Haygood had written Our Brother in Black, a prescriptive discussion of southern race relations, the year before.  As agent, he was charged with distributing monies to various Black schools and colleges throughout the South, with visiting and inspecting the programs of recipients, and with making recommendations to the board.3

 

            The board quickly determined to support Black industrial education, and continued to do so throughout its first two decades.  Prior to an early board meeting, former President Rutherford B. Hayes, a board member, confided to his diary:

           

A few ideas seem to be agreed upon.  Help none but those who help themselves.  Educate only at schools which provide in some form for industrial education. These two points should be insisted upon.  Let the normal instruction be that men must earn their own living, and that by the labor of their hands as far as may be. This if the gospel of salvation for the colored man.  Let not the labor be servile, but in manly occupations like those of the carpenter, the farmer, and the blacksmith.4

 

The board resolved in 1883 to give preferential treatment in appropriations to institutions which provided instruction in agriculture, industrial skills, and other occupations which would “enable colored youth to make a living, and to become useful citizens.”5

 

            Largely due to the support of the Slater board, industrial education became the dominant curriculum in Black schools during the 1880s and 1890s.  These institutions instructed Blacks in a variety if manual skills and occupations, including agriculture, the mechanical arts, domestic science, carpentry and other construction trades, leatherworking and metalworking.  Most of the industrial education offered by Black institutions in the decades following Reconstruction would be considered low-level “vocational” training today.  There was little to no industrial training in the sense of preparing students to work or assume leadership roles in modernized industries.  To man proponents of the industrial education curriculum, such manual training was more important as a means of teaching morals and work discipline than in preparing skilled artisans.  But industrial education did offer many Blacks their first real educational opportunities.6

 

            Between 1883 and 1886, the Slater board distributed over $100,000 to Black schools and colleges in the southern states, primarily to equip and operate manual training programs. Although Haygood noted extensive opposition to industrial education in his report to the board in 1883, by 1886 he observed that there were few Black schools and colleges that did not offer it in some form.  By the 1887-88 academic year, the fund was spending more than $40,000 per year to aid industrial training programs in some forty-one schools. Under Haygood’s guidance, the board used the promise of Slater funds to persuade reluctant institutions to adopt the curriculum.  He admitted that it was the policy of the board to “bring all the best schools into line, in industrial education.”  And he used his influence in the division of Slater monies to control, punish, or rebuke recalcitrant schools.  As a result, a shift from liberal arts to industrial education took place at many Black schools throughout the South during the 1880s.  After Curry assumed the agency of the Slater Fund in 1891, he convinced the board to turn its resources to funding a few model industrial schools like Hampton Institute in Virginia and Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  By 190 these two influential schools received one-half of the annual Slater appropriations.7

 

            Historians have recognized the importance of the Slater Fund to the development of Black industrial education.  August Meier declared that the Slater Fund was “the chief impetus in advancing the cause of industrial education during the 1880s.”8 In his study of Black education in postbellum Alabama, Robert G. Sherer demonstrated that the Slater Fund “was primarily responsible for the rise of industrial education in Alabama.9”But no studies have concerned themselves with the personal motivations and ideologies responsible for fostering the Black industrial education movement in the postbellum South, particularly the control wielded over the Slater Fund by a clique of five individuals: former President Rutherford B. Hayes, industrialist Morris K. Jesup, university president Daniel Coit Gilman, ad southern educational spokesmen Atticus G. Haygood and Jabez L.M. Curry.  In abbreviated form, this clique would influence Black industrial education in the South to 1908.

 

            This circle emerged from Hayes’s relationships with Curry, Gilman, Haygood, and Jesup, and its beginnings preceded the formation of the Slater Fund.  Hayes and Curry had been roommates at Harvard Law School in the early 1840s.  Just as Curry remembered Hayes as one of his “most valued friends and intimate associates while in law school,” Hayes recalled that he had “loved” Curry during their Cambridge years.  The friendship, temporarily dampened by geographical distance and the emotional strain generated by the sectional conflict, was rekindled in 1876-77 with Hayes’s election to the presidency.  Although a southern Democrat, Curry rejoiced at his former roommate’s ascent to that high office, and Hayes reciprocated by offering Curry a place in his administration.  Curry never served under Hayes, although he did advise him on certain political matters, including federal policy toward the South.  But the association also had a distinctly personal side – Hayes and Curry were frequently confidential correspondents and occasional visitors during the years that Hayes was in the White House.  Curry admitted that he “rejoice[d] with special vigor” whenever Hayes was able to break away from the duties of state to visit his Richmond home and reweave memories of college days at Harvard.10

 

            Hayes and Gilman became close friends during the late 1870s.  Although their relationship lacked the emotional intensity of the Hayes-Curry friendship, they frequently corresponded and Gilman advised Hayes on a few federal appointments.  Hayes was an occasional guest at the Gilman home in Baltimore during his presidential years.  Hayes’s friendships with Haygood and Jesup rapidly developed as a result of their philanthropic work for the Slater Fund.  By the late 1880s, Hayes was able to refer to this cadre of friends on or around the fund as “our little circle” or “our circle.”  With Hayes as the hub, this circle functioned as an intellectual, emotional, and policymaking network.11

 

            This circle controlled Slater Fund decision-making from the Fund’s formation to 1908.  Although small, it underwent a few changes in membership during that period.  Curry, who was not a member of the Slater board until 1890, participated informally in the circle until 1885 when he accepted a diplomatic appointment to Spain.  Upon his return three years later, he resumed his informal influence over Slater Fund affairs.  Hayes eventually maneuvered his formal appointment to the board.  Haygood grudgingly abandoned the circle for a California bishopric in 1891. Hayes died in 1893.  Despite these departures, the “rump” clique of Curry, Gilman, and Jesup continued to function effectively for another decade.  After Curry’s death, Gilman and Jesup directed Slater Fund affairs for another five years.12

 

            Significant discrepancies in background divided members of the Slater circle.  Jesup and Gilman had been reared in urban Connecticut, Haygood and Curry in rural Georgia, and Hayes in a small Ohio town.         Jesup and Gilman were the sons of northern businessmen, Haygood and Curry were the sons of southern slaveholders.  Prior to Appomattox, the members of the circle had held opposing views on the major issues of the era – slavery and secession.  Curry had owned slaves and defended slavery in Congress.  Both Curry and Haygood had been rabid secessionists and had fought for the “peculiar institution.”  Jesup abandoned business dealings in Virginia during the 1850s because of his distaste for slavery and slaveholders.  As a young lawyer in antebellum Cincinnati, Hayes defended fugitive slaves.  During the Civil War, he served as a general in the Union army.

 

            Yet, members of the Slater circle shared several common characteristics.  All came from strict evangelical Protestant family backgrounds and continued to be religiously active during their adult years.  All except Jesup had a college education, were trained in one of the professions, and had participated in politics or the diplomatic service.  All shared a deep interest in various national reform causes, including prison reform, civil service reform, conservation, education, juvenile delinquency, the poor, temperance, the suppression of “indecent” literature, and the problems of American Indians and Blacks.  These similarities of background, together with members’ considerable occupational and geographical mobility during the postwar period, suggeststhe cosmopolitanism of those whom Hayes described as “our little circle.”13

 

            Despite the dissimilarity of their antebellum backgrounds and the geographical distance that separated them, this cosmopolitanism of members of the circle allowed them to function as an “invisible college” or intellectual network.  They penned frequent letters to each other, often sharing books, pamphlets, printed sermons, and newspaper clippings of mutual interest.  These letters are filled with discussions of attitudes, beliefs, and polices regarding Black industrial education and a host of other national interests.  In time, certainly by the late 1880s, the circle began to use a common benevolent language adopted from Haygood’s Our Brother in Black to describe their efforts for Black industrial education.  The freedmen were generally referred to as “our brother in black,” while Black industrial education was commonly termed “uplift.”  The shift from liberal arts to industrial education in Black institutions was called a “revolution.”  These and other “code words” colored the speeches, letters, publications, and personal discussions of circle members.  Both their intellectual network and their common benevolent language helped them to function as a cohesive clique.14

 

            The circle also functioned as an emotional support network, based upon male homosocial preferences.  It was not unlike the nineteenth-century networks identified and studied by Drew Gilpin Faust, Lawrence J. Friedman, and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg. 15 Letters written between members of this “little circle” demonstrate the deep emotional attachment, intense mutual respect and concern, and desire for proximity that these men shared.  Numerous letters tell of their “love” and “affectionate regards” for each other.  Although these letters performed a major function in group life, members also endeavored to visit each other whenever they could.  This emotional closeness was also manifested in other ways.  Hayes worried about Curry’s tendency to “overwork,” and loaned Haygood significant sums of money.  In 1903 Jesup hurried to the bedside of the dying Curry in order to comfort him.  Hayes and Haygood exchanged personal photographs and valued them highly.  Hayes assisted Curry in his hobby of collecting autographed letters written by prominent public figures.  Such rituals encouraged group cohesiveness.16

 

            More importantly, the circle functioned as a policymaking network.  Circle members occupied the crucial leadership positions that allowed them to control the direction of the Slater board.  Hayes served as president of the board from its inception until his death in 1893.  Gilman, who had been the secretary of the board during the Fund’s first twelve years, replaced him.  He served until 1908, as did Jesup, the Fund’s treasurer throughout its first twenty-seven years.  The agents of the Fund – Haygood (1882-91) and Curry (1891-1903) – executed the policies of the board.  Hayes clearly functioned as both the formal and informal leader of the circle.  An unobtrusive leader, he advised and coordinated, sharing actual policymaking with other circle members. A skilled mediator, he was primarily responsible for keeping Haygood as Slater agent until 1891, then maneuvered the selection of Curry to succeed him.  He evoked a high degree of genuine respect within the circle, ranging from the deep affection of Haygood to the dependable friendship of Gilman.  His tolerance, personal involvement, commitment to group harmony, and rare but subtle chastisements promoted stable group relations.  After Hayes’s death, the “rump” clique of Curry, Gilman, and Jesup retained control of the policymaking process on the Slater board.  As Curry noted to Gilman in 1894, “it seems that you and Mr. Jesup and myself will have as usual all the work to do.”  Clique size, intimacy, shared decisionmaking, and cohesiveness allowed Curry, Gilman, and Jesup to function together harmoniously after Hayes’s death.17

 

            As the agents of the Slater Fund, Haygood and Curry were largely responsible for its direction.  An examination of their beliefs about Blacks demonstrates a consistent pattern of racial stereotyping.  Often cast as a moderate on racial matters, Haygood’s numerous books, articles, and speeches betray a strong belief in Black inferiority.  Haygood was appalled by the “barbarous moral debasement” of Blacks.  “Elements of evil and superstition,” he asserted, characterized Black religion.  He posited that Blacks had only a vague notion of religious dogma.  Black liturgies, he observed, were “attended with many follies and extravagances, many mistakes and wastes of power, in some cases with exhibitions of fanatical superstition.”   Such “extravagances,” Haygood believed, also dominated Black family life.  He was particularly troubled by the marital and sexual attitudes and activities he observed in the freedmen’s community.  “Loose notions and looser practices as to the marriage relation,” he alleged, exemplified Black family life, which was hampered by immodesty, infidelity, sexual depravity, and licentiousness.  To Haygood, Black family life clearly lacked “domestic virtue and family purity.”  Compounding this problem, he argued, was the excessive use of ardent spirits by Black males.  Drunken Blacks, he alleged, created problems in the Black family and menaced white womanhood.  This prompted him to justify the practice of lynching in the South. 18

 

            Haygood did note a few positive qualities among southern Blacks, but these tended to reinforce the corollary image of Blacks as kind-hearted, good-tempered, happy-go-lucky Sambos. Yet, most of the traits that Haygood observed in Blacks simply supported his stereotype of Blacks as savages.  To him, the freedmen’s community appeared to be ignorant, immoral, indolent, improvident, wasteful, and given to base, instinctual desires.  Even Black professionals, including teachers and preachers, were not exempted from this image.  According to Haygood, Blacks were by their very nature “crude,” primitive, and tending toward savagery.  Although Haygood took solace in the belief that the Black apprenticeship is slavery had formed a “habit of submission” and a fear of “white man’s vengeance” in the race, he feared that schooling Blacks in the liberal arts would breed discontent among them, just as he perceived that it had among northern urban immigrants “whose murmurings hint of suppressed earthquakes.”  The wrong kind of education, Haygood argued, would destroy Black docility and loose Black savagery upon the South.

 

            Curry shared Haygood’s stereotypical view of Blacks.  He characterized Black workers as “stupid, indolent, shiftless…with a low tone of morality.” He asserted that Blacks had “loose notions of piety and morality and with strong racial peculiarities and proclivities…had not outgrown the feebleness of the moral sense which is common to all primitive races.”  Throughout his writings and speeches, Curry stereotyped Black behavior again and again as ignorant, immoral, superstitious, wasteful, and lacking in foresight.  Of Black religion, he wrote:

 

The discipline of virtue, the incorporation of creed into personal life, is largely wanting, and hence physical and hysterical demonstrations, excited sensibilities, uncontrolled emotions, transient outbursts of ardor, have been confounded with the graces of the Spirit and of faith based on knowledge.  Contradiction, negation, paradox and eccentricity are characteristics of the ignorant and the superstitious, especially when they concern themselves with religion.19

 

To Curry, Blacks were immoral, irrational, instinctual beings.  On occasion, this belief prompted him to view the moral and economic uplift of southern Blacks as “hopeless” and to express doubts as to the feasibility of Black industrial education.  Certainly, he believed, that the race problem was the greatest issue that Western civilization has encountered and this made the curricular choice for Black education one of vital importance.20

 

            Haygood’s and Curry’s fear of Black savagery and desire for docile Black behavior was confirmed by what they believed to have occurred during the era of Reconstruction.  They accepted the myth that the decade following the Civil War was a period in which northern Radicals and southern Blacks successfully collaborated to dominate and exploit southern whites. Although both remembered slavery as too repressive, they observed that the social system which had replaced it was insufficiently repressive.  As a result, this Black-Radical coalition had wreaked “incalculable mischief” on the white South.  The end result of this travail had been temporary white “subordination to the black race.”  Both Haygood and Curry argued that Blacks must be strictly controlled.  Curry even implicitly justified efforts at intimidating Blacks, such as those employed by the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction.  He noted that when “negro dominancy” occurred, whites could use “no measures too…severe.”21

 

            Although less overtly concerned with Black savagery, Hayes, Jesup, and Gilman shared Haygood and Curry’s stereotyped image of southern Blacks.  Hayes concluded that Blacks lacked “the thrift, the education, the morality, and the religion required to make a prosperous and intelligent citizenship.”  He once characterized Black oratory as their singular talent as a race.  Gilman claimed that Black culture was fraught with “error” – lacking acceptable social and sexual mores and attitudes toward work.  But despite their ethnocentrism and accompanying paternalism, Hayes and Gilman differed from their southern colleagues in their willingness to credit Blacks with the ability for improvement as a race.  Both believed that the freedmen’s racial attributes might be altered through proper education.  On the other hand, Jesup, like Haygood and Curry, seems to have accepted Black inferiority as innate and irreversible.  Labelling Blacks as ignorant, improvident, thriftless, and imitative, he argued that, separated from the “refining influence” of whites, they would revert to their “native condition” of savagery.22

 

            But because they shared an ethnocentric and stereotypical view of southern Blacks, and a common craving for a solution to the race question, members of the Slater circle endorsed the movement toward legal segregation of the races that occurred throughout the South in the decades after Reconstruction.  Fifteen years before Booker T. Washington‘s Atlanta Exposition speech, which accepted the segregated nature of southern life, Hayes declared:

 

We would not undertake to violate the laws of nature, we do not wish to change the purpose of God in making these differences of nature.  We are willing to have these elements of our population [whites and blacks] separate as the fingers are, but we rejoice to see them united for every good work, for National defense, one, as the hand.23

 

Historians George Sinkler and Rayford W. Logan have employed Hayes’s defense of segregation as an explanation of his willingness to abandon Reconstruction upon ascending to the Presidency.  Like Hayes, the rest of his “little circle” also sought segregation along racial lines.  None of the members demonstrated a commitment to social equality between Blacks and whites. Haygood used the analogy of oil’s insolubility in water to explain and defend southern segregation.  He argued that segregation was a social device which both Blacks and whites desired. Blacks, he perceived, wanted to be separate from whites due to “instinct.”  Hayes, Haygood, and the other members of the circle believed that laws enforcing segregation protected both races from those who sought to alter radically race relations in the South.24

 

            Haygood and Curry reflected the circle’s advocacy of segregation in their administration of the fund.  From the beginning of his agency, Haygood exhibited a preference for segregated schools, arguing that they were “best for all parties.”  He found it inconceivable that coracial education could prove successful in uplifting southern Blacks.  Nor did Blacks favor the prospect, he argued, claiming that “black children…don’t want to sit at the same desks with white children.”  For this reason, he used his influence in the division of the monies of the fund to punish Blacks who defied southern segregation practices.  The clearest example was Haygood’s reaction to William Hooper Councill’s violation of the prevailing racial code.  Councill had first obtained Slater subsidies in 1884 while serving as principal of the Huntsville (Alabama) Normal School.  Councill had later resigned his position under pressure after two separate incidents in which he and his students attempted to sit in the “white” car on a train and had been ejected.  When the Alabama Black was restored to the principalship in 1888, Haygood refused additional grants to the school. He advised Hayes that “we can make better use of the $600.  Councill’s use of the money in his day was not satisfactory.”  After Curry accepted the agency of the fund in 1891, he continued his predecessor’s de facto policy of not funding coracial schools.25

 

            Circle members believed the physical separation of the races to be a natural phenomenon.  Haygood spoke for the others when he asserted:

 

There never was in this world, in any nation or community, such a thing as social equality, and there never will be.  The social spheres arrange themselves to suit themselves, and no laws promulgated by State or church will change the special affinities and natural selections of men.  Men choose the circles for which they have affinity, seek companionships they prefer, and find the places that are suited to them.26

 

Segregation, according to Haygood, was a predictable result of human interaction.  Like the other members of the circle, he posited that the structure of southern segregation had developed as it did because of the inferiority of the Black race.  Whites, according to this line of reasoning, were the natural leaders of southern society.  As Curry told southern educators at the Capon Springs Conference in 1899, “The white people are to be the leaders to take the initiative, to have the directive control in all matters pertaining to civilization and the highest interests of our beloved land.  History demonstrates that the Caucasian will rule.  He ought to rule.”  He went on to note in his speech that white supremacy did not mean “hostility to the negro, but friendship for him.”  Curry’s advocacy of white supremacy, the most radical of any of the members of the circle, was sufficiently extreme to allow him to develop a close friendship with Ben Tillman, the Negrophobe governor of South Carolina during the 1890s.  But the other members of the circle must also be categorized as white supremacists.27

 

            White supremacy was not a rationale used by circle members to justify abandoning southern Blacks.  Rather, they argued, it created a set of paternalistic obligations for white leaders – whites should ostensibly oversee Black institutions in order to provide proper direction.  This was especially true of Black education.  Haygood expressed concern that “the Negroes show so marked a desire to control the colleges built for their benefit that their friends are anxious lest the impatience of the very people they labor for should mar their best planned efforts to help them.” The accommodationist Booker T. Washington’s management of Tuskegee Institute seems to have been the sole exception to the circle’s desire for white control of Black schools.  Only during Washington’s extended absence from Tuskegee in 1896 did Curry observe that the institution was “showing the effect of exclusive negro management and of the constant absence of Mr. Washington.”  But whenever possible, members of the circle determined, Black students should be taught by southern whites.  It seemed to them to be divinely ordained.  It was, in Hayes’s view, the “grave and indispensable duty” of “every [white] Christian” to assist southern Blacks.  In good biblical tone, Haygood asserted that southern whites were to be “the keepers of our ‘brothers in black.’”  He even suggested that “Providence” had placed Blacks in the South so that they might learn the lessons of western civilization from the superior white race.  For these white reformers, Black education was a mandated stewardship, not a matter of choice.28

 

            The degradation of slavery, Black cultural differences, and the events of the Reconstruction years had produced in the minds of circle members a fear of Black savagery.  As benevolent paternalists, they favored the approach of educating and socializing Blacks for their role in southern society.  Haygood, Curry, and Jesup sought a curriculum designed to ensure Black docility. Hayes and Gilman envisioned the uplifting of the Black race.  Whatever the approach, they all agreed that Black savagery posed a serious threat to southern white culture.  Hayes voiced the fear that “reconstruction has not yet been finished…while millions of freemen, with votes in their hands, are left without education.”  Something needed to be done.  The solution they agreed upon, in the words of Gustavus R. Glenn, Georgia commissioner of education, was to find and encourage a curriculum designed to “educate the beast out of the negro.”  Like Glenn, members of the circle soon supported the industrial education curriculum developed at Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute and argued that the solution to the race question and the salvation of southern society lay in the extension of the Hampton-Tuskegee method.  To their mind, no other form of schooling would suffice in restraining southern Blacks.  Black education in the liberal arts would merely breed discontent among members of the race and ill prepare them for their role.  Only industrial education would fit blacks for the “responsibilities of citizenship, and save them and our institutions from the perils of ill understood liberty and ignorant and reckless use of the franchise.”  Curry perhaps stated the circle rationale best when he warned the Alabama legislature in 1885 that Blacks must be educated properly “or they will drag us down.”29

 

            The industrial education model provided an answer to this dilemma.  Hayes’s “little circle” soon voiced an unmitigated preference for the education model developed by Samuel Chapman Armstrong at Hampton and copied by Tuskegee and sister institutions.  Armstrong’s curriculum, Hayes proclaimed, “hits the nail on the head.  It solves the whole negro problem.”  Circle members were attracted by the twin emphasis on industrial and moral education that characterized the curriculum at the Virginia school.  As Slater educational theory developed during the 1880s, it became clear to circle members that industrial education could employ objectives that included proper personal discipline and moral improvement, in addition to training in agriculture, industrial, and domestic skills.  And it did not challenge the underlying tenets of segregation or white supremacy.  Such an education could train a future penetration of conservative Black leaders.  It would fit them “for the places they are to fill in life.”30 It is particularly instructive to note that the curriculum prepared students to become farmers, industrial laborers, construction workers, and domestic servants.  Even Black leaders were not to be trained for careers beyond traditional Black roles.

 

            Circle members shared a belief in the positive ends that Black industrial education would achieve.  Like many postbellum educators, they claimed that manual training would foster orderly and docile Black behavior.  In his speeches on the subject, Hayes frequently argued that industrial education would promote conservative tendencies in students.  Gilman observed that it would have a modifying, sobering influence on Blacks and create order and discipline in the Black community.  Haygood assured educators of both races that the industrial education curriculum “fosters good discipline.”  Curry was even more direct.  In 1892 he reported to the Slater Board that industrial education was proving “advantageous in restraining appetites and preventing vicious indulgences” among Blacks.  But all of the members of the circle hoped that the discipline gained by Black students in manual labor schools would eventually assist in restraining the supposed savagery of the entire race.  Hayes suggested that a major benefit of Black industrial education would be its usefulness in preventing criminal behavior within the Black community. This notion took on increasing importance, he noted, as ever greater numbers of Blacks flocked to southern cities.  Hayes spoke to many of the same fears of unrestrained urban Black communities that had troubled antebellum whites and ultimately led to the development of residential segregation in many southern cities during the opening decades of the twentieth century.31

 

            Foremost among the elements of personal discipline that circle members hoped to develop in Black students was a proper attitude towards work.  They theorized that the industrial education curriculum would teach Blacks the value of labor and develop appropriate work habits.  This training was necessary, they believed, to destroy the characteristics indolence that Blacks had allegedly manifested during slavery times and after.  In 1890 Curry outlined for the Louisiana legislature the work discipline that industrial educators valued.  This included training “the will into habits of industry and temperance, in the virtues of punctuality, order, and good behavior.”  By this means, industrial education would mold Blacks into “more useful members of society.” What circle members desired from Blacks was nothing less than a thorough acceptance of the Protestant work ethic and the complete abandonment of traditional African work rhythms.  They assumed that providing southern Blacks with the proper work discipline would limit racial discord in the South, develop a tractable Black labor force, encourage sectional harmony, attract northern capital, and cause southern industries and railroads to flourish.  Their advocacy of Black industrial education harmonized easily with the philosophy of the New South movement.32

            A corollary of the circle’s emphasis on Black work discipline was the belief that something needed to be done for the “moral uplifting of the negroes.”  Curry summarized the Slater philosophy in 1894 when he wrote to Gilman that a “model” industrial education curriculum must encourage “good order, discipline, a healthy moral atmosphere.”  Circle members believed that educating Blacks in the dominant Euro-American moral code would help ensure docile Black behavior, provide an underlying philosophical basis for Black work discipline, and eliminate undesirable Black cultural practices and values.  They recognized that moral education was a crucial component of the Hampton model.  Hayes typified the thought of circle members when he suggested that Black industrial education should include the “proper cultivation…of…the heart.”  He and the “little circle” believed that this moral “cultivation” must encourage Black honesty, respect for property, thrift, accumulation, orderly family life, strict sexual mores and behavior, and proper notions of religion.  Jesup observed that if Blacks internalized these dominant white values, they could learn to “imitate” white behavior, thus tempering the savage instincts of their race.33 Black students, then, were to be trained as Victorian moralists, albeit with a black skin and a southern accent.

 

            Despite their racial stereotyping and desire for docile Black behavior, the members of the Slater circle can be characterized as benevolent reformers.  This matches their own perceptions. Circle members consistently couched their discussions of Black industrial education in a rhetoric of missionary endeavor, referring to themselves as “missionaries” and their efforts as a “mission,” “moral reform,” and a “sacred” venture.  Haygood compared their work to that of American missionaries abroad, including the career of his sister Laura Askew Haygood in China. And Hayes’s “little circle” seems to have functioned as a reform community.  Through the intimacy born of the intellectual and emotional support provided by the clique, the leadership of Hayes and Gilman, a common benevolent language, and a common commitment to Black industrial education, this reform community endured from 1882 to 1908.  Yet like Mr. Norton, the white philanthropist in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the language of “innocent words” that they fashioned masked their true, if unconscious, motives.34 Unlike Ben Tillman and other virulent racists, they clothed their acceptance of white supremacy in benevolent trappings.  But like these Negrophobes, they feared Black savagery and craved docile Black behavior.  These fears motivated their argument for Black industrial education.  From our late twentieth-century perspective, their claims as benevolent reformers have a hollow ring.

 

Notes

 

 

 

 1For an overview of freedmen’s education in the South during Reconstruction, see Robert C. Morris, Reading, ‘Riting, and Reconstruction: The Education of Freedmen in the South, 1861-1870(Chicago, 1981); Ronald E. Butchardt, Northern Schools, Southern Blacks, and Reconstruction: Freedmen’s  Education, 1862-1875 (Westport, Conn., 1980); and Joe M. Richardson, Christian Reconstruction: The American Missionary Association and Southern Blacks, 1861-1890 (Athens, 1986).  

 

2Louis D. Rubin, Teach the Freemen: The Correspondence of Rutherford B. Hayes and the Slater Fund for Negro Education, 1881-1893, 2 vols. (Baton Rouge, 1959), 1:xx; Merle Curti and Roderick Nash, Philanthropy in the Shaping of American Higher Education (New Brunswick, N.J., 1965), 173.  

 

3Rubin, Teach the Freeman, 1: xviii-xix, xxi. 

 

4Charles R. Williams, ed., Diary and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes, 5 vols. (Columbus, 1922-26), 4:88.  

 

5Proceedings of the John F. Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen, 1883 (Baltimore, 1883), 7.  

 

6August Meier, Negro Thought in America, 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (Ann Arbor, 1964), 87-89.  

 

7Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1885-86 (Washington, 1887), 651; Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1883, 14; Meier, Negro Thought in America, 90; Rubin, Teach the Freeman, 1:xxviii, 92; Twentieth Annual Report of the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church for 1887 (Cincinnati, 1887), 14; Twenty-Second Annual Report of the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Cincinnati, 1889), 14; Elam Frank Dempsey, Atticus Greene Haygood (Nashville, 1940), 291-92; Harold W. Mann, Atticus Greene Haygood: Methodist Bishop, Editor, and Educator (Athens, 1965), 185, 187; Dwight O. Holmes, The Evolution of the Negro College (College Park, Md., 1934), 170.  

 

8Meier, Negro Thought in America, 98.  

 

9Sherer, Subordination or Liberation?: The Development and Conflicting Theories of Black Education in Nineteenth Century (Alabama University, 1977), 64.  

 

10J. L. M. Curry, “Recollections and Reflections: Rutherford B. Hayes,” Religious Herold (9 January 1902), 2; Notes for Autobiography, Book 1, 43, J. L. M. Curry Papers, Library of Congress (hereafter referred to as JLMCP); Curry to Rutherford B. Hayes, 9 August, 26 September, 10 October, 1877; 15 February, 11 March, 1879, Rutherford B. Hayes Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center (hereafter referred to as RBHP); Jessie Pearl Rice, J. L. M. Curry: Southerner, Statesman, and Educator (New York, 1949), 83.  

 

11Daniel Coit Gilman to Hayes, 23 January, 1879; 4 December, 1880; 27 January, 1881, RBHP; Hayes to Gilman, 15 February, 1881, Daniel Coit Gilman Papers, Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University (hereafter referred to as DCGP); Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1888, 4; Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1889, 4.  

 

12Biographical information on members of the Slater circle can be found in the hundreds of letters in JLMCP, RBHP, and DCGP.  Many of these are reprinted in Rubin, Teach the Freeman. Additional information can be gleaned from the clippings, letters, and miscellaneous items in the Atticus G. Haygood Papers, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University (hereafter referred to as AGHP).  Helpful printed sources include Kenneth E. Davison, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes (Westport, Conn., 1972); Harry Barnard, Rutherford B. Hayes and His America(Indianapolis, 1954); David P. Thelen, “Rutherford B. Hayes and the Reform Tradition in the Gilded Age,” American Quarterly 22 (Summer 1970), 150-65; Mann, Atticus Greene Haygood;Rice, J.L.M. Curry; Fabian Franklin, The Life of Daniel Coit Gilman (New York, 1946).  The best available source on Jesup is “Jesup, Morris Ketchum,” Dictionary of American Biography (1964), 5:61-62.  

 

13Geoffrey Blodgett convincingly employs occupational and geographic mobility as indices of cosmopolitanism in studying another nineteenth-century reform circle.  See Blodgett, “Reform Thought and the Genteel Tradition,” in The Gilded Age, ed. H. Wayne Morgan (Syracuse, 1970), 55-76.  

 

14For a detailed discussion of the Slater circle as an intellectual, emotional, and policymaking network, see Roy E. Finkenbine, “A Little Circle: White Philanthropists and Black Industrial Education in the Postbellum South” (Ph.D. diss., Bowling Green State University, 1982), 74-94.  

 

15Faust, A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840-1860 (Baltimore, 1977); Friedman, “Confidence and Pertinacity in Evangelical Abolitionism: Lewis Tappan’s Circle,” American Quarterly 31 (Spring 1979), 81-106; Smith-Rosenberg, “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs 1 (Autumn 1975), 1-29.  

 

16Hayes to Curry, 8 January, 1891; 12 November, 1892, JLMCP; Rubin, Teach the Freeman, 1:105, 2:151; Rice, J. L. M. Curry, 180.  

 

17Rubin, Teach the Freeman, 1: xxxi-xxxii; Morris K. Jesup to Gilman, 24 August [1890], DCGP.  

 

18Morton Sosna, In Search of the Silent South: Southern Liberals and the Race Issue (New York, 1977), 7; Haygood, address delivered at the Gammon School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia, 27 October, 1886, AGHP; Haygood, Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future (Miami, 1969), 11-15, 29, 221; Haygood, Sermons and Speeches (Nashville, 1883), 356; Haygood, Pleas for Progress (Nashville, 1889), 28, 37, 49; Haygood, “How He Makes His Way,” in Speeches Delivered at Monteagle and Chautauqua (1883), n.p.; Haygood, “Hand as Well as Head and Heart Training,” address delivered at Holly Springs, Mississippi, 10 March, 1885, 1, 7, AGHP; Haygood to Gilman, 10 August, 1887, RBHP; Mann, Atticus Greene Haygood, 156; Isabel C. Barrows, ed., First Mohonk Conference on the Negro Question (Boston, 1890), 85; Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1883, 12-13; Haygood, “The Negro Pulpit,” Wesleyan Christian Advocate 54, n.s. 12 (8 January, 1890), 1.  

 

19Curry, Address Delivered to the General Assembly of Georgia (Atlanta, 1889), 9-10; Curry, Difficulties, Complications, and Limitations Connected With the Education of the Negro, Slater Fund Occasional Papers, no. 5 (Baltimore, 1895), 5.  

 

20Harvey Wish, “Negro Education and the Progressive Movement,” Journal of Negro History 49 (July 1964), 185; Curry to Robert Winthrop, 18 June, 1894, LMCP; Curry, Difficulties Connected With Negro Education, 5.  

 

21Curry, speech to Pennsylvania Society of New York, 31 October, 1899, JLMCP; Curry to Hayes, 7 November, 1879, RBHP; Rice, J. L. M. Curry, 83; Curry, address delivered to the Senate and House of Representatives of Alabama, 1 February, 1889, 13, JLMCP.  

 

22Barrows, First Mohonk Conference, 10, 54-55; Hayes, speech delivered at Hampton Institute, 23 May, 1878 (reprinted in Southern Workman 7 [June 1878], 46); Wish, “Negro Education,” 15; Gilman, A Study in Black and White, Slater Fund Occasional Papers, no. 10 (Baltimore, 1897), 5. 

 

23Hayes, speech delivered at Hampton Institute, 20 May, 1880 (reprinted in Southern Workman 9 [June 1880], 68.  

 

24Sinkler, “Race: Principles and Policies of Rutherford B. Hayes,” “Ohio History 77 (Winter-Spring-Summer 1968), 166; Logan, The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 (New York, 1954), 29-36; Haygood, Our Brother in Black, 232-33.  

 

25Haygood, Our Brother in Black, 144; Sherer, Subordination or Liberation?, 10, 37-38; Rubin, Teach the Freeman, 2:19-20 Rice, J. L. M. Curry, 104.  

 

26Haygood, “The Education of the Negro,” in Speeches Delivered at Monteagle and Chautauqua, n.p.  

 

27Proceedings of the Second Capon Springs Conference for Education in the South (Raleigh, N.C., 1899), 38; Curry to Gilman, 20 February, 5 December, 1894, DCGP.  Several letters from the Curry-Tillman correspondence are in the JLMCP.  

 

28Barrows, First Mohonk Conference, 9, 85; Curry to Gilman, 9 March 1896, DCGP; Hayes to Curry, 11 February 1891, JLMCP; Haygood, Our Brother in Black, 148; Haygood, “The Southern Church and the Negro,” Cumberland Presbyterian Review 1 (April, 1889), 140-41. 

 

29Haygood, Pleas for Progress, 11-12; Hayes speech delivered at Springfield, Ohio, 30 May, 1884, RBHP; Gustavus R. Glen to Curry, [January 1892], JLMCP; Curry, Address Delivered to the Senate and House of Representatives of Alabama, February 6, 1885 (Montgomery, 1885), 9.  

 

30Hayes, speech delivered at Hampton Institute, 20 May, 1880, 68; Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1883, 14; Haygood, “Industrial Education for the Negro,” in Twenty-First Annual Report of the Freedmen’s Aid and Southern Education Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Cincinnati, 1888), 61; Hayes, speech delivered before the Education Convention, Toledo, Ohio, 5 December, 1885, RBHP.  

 

31Hayes, speech delivered at the Toledo Manuel Training School, 7 October, 1884, RBHP; Gilman, Study in Black and White, 8, 12; Isabel C. Barrows, ed., Second Mohonk Conference on the Negro Question (Boston, 1891), 16; Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1892, 9; Hayes, speech delivered at Vanderbilt University, 17 November, 1889, RBHP; Hayes speech delivered at the Toledo High School, 22 March, 1888, RBHP.  For a discussion of southern white fears of unrestrained urban Black communities, see Richard C. Wade, Slavery in the Cities: The South, 1820-1860 (New York, 1964), 243-81; and Lawrence J Friedman, The White Savage: Racial Fantasies in the Postbellum South (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1970), 119-20.  

 

32Hayes, speech delivered before the Findlay Conference, 14 November, 1888, RBHP; Curry, Address Delivered Before the General Assembly of Alabama (n.p.), 5; Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1891, 19.  For a discussion of the thought of circle members on southern economic development and sectional harmony, see Finkenbine, “A Little Circle,” 135-45.  

 

33Haygood, Our Brother in Black, 129, 157, 182, 189, 243; Curry to Gilman, 8 November, 1894, DCGP; Hayes, speech delivered at Vanderbilt University, 18 November, 1889; Barrows, Second Mohonk Conference, 55; Curry, Difficulties Connected With Negro Education, 22-23; Haygood, Sermons and Speeches, 390.  

 

34Hayes to Curry, 4 December, 1891, JLMCP; Proceedings of the Slater Fund, 1891, 16, 18; Haygood, “The Gospel Among the Slaves,” Wesleyan Christian Advocate 58, n.s. 16 (12 July, 1894), 3; Ellison, Invisible Man (New York, 1972), 110.