Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mississippi Negro Education

The fraudulent state elections of 1875 removed many black and Republican lawmakers who had supported public school funding. Conservative white Democrats regained control of state government and gradually began to reduce the taxes that had funded public education. The Republican governor was forced to resign and the lieutenant governor and the state superintendent of education were impeached and removed from office.
During the early 1870s the education of black children was further endangered as a campaign of intimidation and violence was waged against black schools and their officials. The Ku Klux Klan made the public schools and their teachers targets for their acts of destruction and mayhem. By 1885 the state had cut education funding to the point that the effectiveness of the schools was being called into question.
In 1886 State Superintendent J. R. Preston implemented a revised education code that raised educational standards for both teachers and schools. The new law adjusted teacher salaries to school size and required teachers to take and pass a licensing examination. With white Democrats firmly in control of the state government, it was only a matter of time before laws pertaining to education would be either changed or nullified by those who opposed the education of the Negro.

Public Education Under the Constitution of 1890
The consolidation of political power in the Democratic Party led to a call for a new state constitution. The Constitution of 1890 was for the most part very similar to the previous state constitution with regard to education. There were however two notable differences. The first difference was found in Article VIII, Section 207 which read, “Separate schools shall be maintained for children of the white and colored races.” This provision established legal segregation in the common schools. A similar law passed in 1888 had legalized segregation of public accommodations such as trains and railway stations. The education of the Negro was considered a necessary evil by white southerners who resented paying taxes to support black schools. Methods of circumventing the constitutional education provisions soon emerged. Funds earmarked for black schools were blatantly designated to white schools. This early misappropriation of education funds contributed to inequalities in black school facilities and in the salaries of black teachers. One other significant difference between the two constitutions was the provision for the establishment and support of institutions for the education of the deaf, dumb, and blind. Changes in the school laws came rapidly during this period, but by 1890 most Mississippians had accepted public schools as a cost-effective alternative to expensive private academies.
With state government once again in control of an all white Democratic Party, the public began to invest in the education of its white children to the neglect of the majority black children. As white leadership in predominantly black counties shifted funds to build and maintain white schools, black communities worked hard to offset the funding imbalances. To make up the difference black communities often were “double taxed,” having to pay the state poll tax and then to collect donations within their communities to sustain the education of their own children. Black schools were also assisted by northern philanthropy through such organizations as the Peabody Fund, the Slater Fund and the Julius Rosenwald Fund.


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