The Education of Black Children in the Jim Crow South

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Griot: Russell Brooker, PhD

Copy Editors: Adekola Adedapo and Fran Kaplan, EdD

Photo Editor: Fran Kaplan, EdD

 

Education is the key to economic success. It is true now, and it was true in the Jim Crow South.  Southern education was not very good – even for white children. But education for blacks in the South in the early 1900s was worse in many ways.

Why Education for African American Children Was Inferior

  • Southern schools were racially segregated.  Blacks and whites had to attend different schools. The separate school systems were not equal. Schools for white children received more public money.
  • Fewer African Americans were enrolled in school.  Black children were often pulled out school because they were needed on the farm. Many of their parents were sharecroppers. To plant and harvest enough crops, sharecroppers’ children had to work alongside their parents.
  • Even if they weren't needed on the farm, the white owner of their farm might pull black children out if he decided they were needed for work. Or he might simply believe that African American children did not deserve an education.
  • There were not as many public schools available for blacks.  If a town did not have enough money for two separate schools, they built only one school – for white children. This was especially true in the rural towns, because most rural towns had little money.
  • City school systems had more money than rural ones. However, at that time in the South, most African Americans  lived in rural areas, on farms. On the other hand, many white children lived in cities and could attend well-funded city schools. In rural areas, schools for both black and white children were scheduled around the cotton growing season. These schools were open fewer days than city schools.  As a result, many black children went to school only two or three months out of the year.
  • Among the African Americans who did attend school, most were in the fourth grade or lower. Many left school after fourth grade. Therefore it would be a long time before there would be a large number of blacks going to college.

The Conditions in the Schools Where Black Children Studied

  • Many school buildings for African Americans had leaking roofs, sagging floors, and windows without glass.  They ranged from untidy to positively filthy, according to a study issued in 1917.
  • If black children had any books at all, they were hand-me-downs from white schools.
  • Black schools were overcrowded, with too many students per teacher.  More black schools than white had only one teacher to handle students from toddlers to 8th graders.  Black schools were more likely to have all grades together in one room.
  • There were not enough desks for the over-crowded classrooms.
  • Black teachers did not receive as much training as white teachers. On top of that, the salary for black teachers was so low that it was hard to find fully qualified ones.
  • There were limits on what blacks could be taught in school.  White school leaders did not want black children to be exposed to ideas like equality and freedom. Carter G. Woodson told how some black children in Southern schools were not allowed to use books that included the Declaration of Independence or the U. S. Constitution. These documents state that government should get its power from the consent of the governed. Reading them would confirm for African Americans that they were being denied the rights due to all citizens of the United States.

The One Bright Light

Fortunately, some schools for black children were built with money sent by Northern foundations.  The Rosenwald Foundation was most important of these. It gave over four million dollars to help build nearly 5,000 black schools throughout the South. These schools were built with the health and comfort of the children and teachers in mind. Thousands of African American children received a good education in the Rosenwald Schools.  (Visit the Rosenwald Schools exhibit.)

Russell G. Brooker, PhD, is Professor of Political Science at Alverno College, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He teaches courses in political science, and research methodology.  He has taught courses in African American history, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement since 1981.  He is currently writing a book on the civil rights movement before 1954. 

50 Comments

  1. Cristina Thacker on July 17, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    This website is so well put together and very easy to read. I am a college student doing a research paper on Jim Crow laws and I am shocked and appalled by the information I have discovered on the subject. The pervasiveness of this era on the lives of Southern African Americans is astounding. Thank you for your enlightenment on the subject for those who were not there to witness its events in history and I pray that these gross and unfortunate injustices will NEVER repeat themselves.

  2. The History of Education « joh09248 on October 17, 2013 at 12:38 AM
  3. Middle School Student on November 18, 2013 at 9:17 PM

    I’m a student currently learning about Segregation in the South, and I decided to do some more research on this subject (to help my grade, and understand more on the topic for future reference). I liked this website- it’s easy, interesting, descriptive, and neat. I am very shocked with this information, as I do agree with the previous comment- I do hope the history will never repeat its unfortunate self. But thank you, for a really informative website.

    • dr_fran on November 20, 2013 at 2:35 PM

      We are impressed with the quality of your writing as a middle school student and your decision to research this subject further. Hope you got the good grade you were looking for and that you will visit again in future and explore other exhibits. Thank you so much for your extensive comment and appreciation for the museum.

  4. Taryn on November 20, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    This website helped me and my group get some ideas of how the black Children were treated I can’t believe that happened. I just wanted to thank you for helping us do some research on are project XD

    P.S ….. Thanks a lot :)

    • dr_fran on November 20, 2013 at 2:31 PM

      Taryn, Thanks for your comments. We are glad to be of help. You are to be commended for researching this subject.

  5. Lauren on December 7, 2013 at 9:15 PM

    very helpful for my research paper

  6. Middle School Student on January 4, 2014 at 12:33 AM

    This website was very clear and easy to read, also the pictures that went along with the articles were excellent. I am currently doing a project on segregation and I really wanted to get more information about the schools during segregation, and this website helped me a lot. Thank you(:

  7. kaevon alston on January 23, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    awesome

  8. English Honors student on February 22, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    I loved that this website gave me some good info. It really helped me with a project I had.

  9. Anya on March 6, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    Ready good site and article. You provided a brief overview on the subject of educating African Americans in the 1900’s. I am writing annotated bibliographies for my cultural diversity class and found the information posted here very interesting as well as helpful.

  10. Middle School Researcher on March 10, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    I would like to note that this article is extremely biased. I feel it’s difficult to present the other side, but might I ask you do, Dr. Fray? It would make for a better exhibit.

    • dr_fran on March 11, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      Dear Middle School Researcher, I’m interested to know what in this article you find biased, what you believe is “the other side” of this exhibit’s topic, what facts you know to be untrue and what sources you base your claim upon. It’s difficult to respond without these specifics, but if you provide them, I can ask the scholar-griot who curated this exhibit to correct any misinformation. Thanks.

  11. Shad Arif on April 18, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    Very helpful when learning about “To Kill a Mockingbird” loved it

  12. Cdog on April 18, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    Your amazing.. :*

  13. edmund on April 30, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    i am happy this information came in handy for a mini-project i have in my final year. i am happy you guys made this reliable, there will no need to plagiarize if information is easily available outside the traditional textbook library.

  14. jake on April 30, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    i hate the jim crow laws

  15. sdfghjkl on November 20, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    woo cool

  16. paul cox on December 7, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    I grew up in the jim crow south and I can say that this article is not biased! I went to school in the late 50’s and early 60’s and at that time the black children walked to school and we whites rode a bus. whites had a different room for each grade and one teacher for each grade ,whereas the black children had all grades in one room and one teacher for all!!

  17. John Johnson on December 17, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    thank you for this information .. it has greatly helped in my research project on the great deppressi0on and seggregation … i hope whoever may read this has a nice day :)

  18. Jackson on January 9, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    This helped with my school project so thank you for this website it helped me out a lot.

  19. ShingekiNoHappy on January 28, 2015 at 12:33 PM

    This is helping me with my project

  20. tiny box tim on January 28, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    black should be allowed to do what white children can do, and teachers should not be allowed to hit or HURT the black and white I HAVE A DREAM………..
    XD
    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Katherine Snyder on January 30, 2015 at 5:17 PM

    I would like to know what year this article was published to use as a reference in a book I’m writing. Thank you.

    • dr_fran on February 15, 2015 at 11:48 AM

      Sept. 11, 2012

  22. Bob on February 20, 2015 at 1:45 PM

    Good stuff

  23. Emily on February 25, 2015 at 7:55 AM

    Thank you-this will help tremendously on a report I’m doing.

  24. Coco on March 2, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    I think think this was helpful for my social project

  25. Jackson on March 18, 2015 at 5:23 PM

    Thank you so much for putting this article up it is extremely helpful for my essay I’m writing about . And In no way is it okay to treat a black person so poorly because their DIFFERENT!!!! BEING DIFFERENT IS WHAT MAKES THIS WORLD SO SPECIAL!!!!!

  26. Jason on March 18, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    Thank you so much for putting this article up it is extremely helpful for my essay I’m writing about . And In no way is it okay to treat a black person so poorly because their DIFFERENT!!!! BEING DIFFERENT IS WHAT MAKES THIS WORLD SO AWESOME!!!

  27. Elizabeth Garcia on March 23, 2015 at 1:02 AM

    Hello! I think this whole website is amazing. I’m learning a lot more detailed stuff than I’ve known before.
    Out of curiosity, what year was this article created?

    • dr_fran on March 23, 2015 at 3:40 PM

      This exhibit was posted on 9/11/12.

  28. Rachael on March 25, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    Wow! Thank you!! This helped me so much on my research paper. This has some great information.

  29. Caitlin on March 26, 2015 at 11:23 AM

    this website really helped me write my paper. i got a lot of good facts off on this website. This website helped me and my group get some ideas of how the black Children were treated I can’t believe that happened. I just wanted to thank you for helping us do some research on are project. :)

  30. Wazzup on March 27, 2015 at 2:40 PM

    This website is good

  31. Jasmine best on April 11, 2015 at 6:40 PM

    I love the website so better information on where you got this information would be nice for citing purposes.

  32. TianZhenChen on April 15, 2015 at 10:49 PM

    WoW! thank you, I love this website!!!

  33. Brooke Stewart on April 21, 2015 at 12:01 PM

    I have been researching the Rosenwald schools as part of the background for my trilogy “Crimes of a Guilty Land” and I came across your site. You are to be commended for the content and quality. And what a blessing to see so many young people leaving comments!
    Well done. Brooke Stewart

  34. Marte on May 5, 2015 at 3:12 AM

    This website really helped me, I am writing this short story in english about south america during the Jim Crow laws, and this website really helped me, Thank you :)

  35. Jessie on May 15, 2015 at 6:48 PM

    This is one of the most helpful websites for discrimination, ect. I used it for three different projects! Just please add more information for bibliographies:/ Thank You for saving me hours of research! <3

  36. sebastian on November 20, 2015 at 12:34 PM

    TKaM research project this is helpful

  37. robert on November 20, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    i througholy enjoyed this website, as well as the book TKaM

  38. SaltShaker101 on February 3, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    Really good stuff. Writing about schools in class, the information is great.

  39. Katherine on March 20, 2016 at 6:20 PM

    Hi, I am doing a research paper about segregation in the 1930’s. This website was amazingly helpful. Thank you SO MUCH! Just one thing I was wondering if you could possibly send me or put on your website the citation for this article Thanks if you could that would be really helpful.

  40. A Citation Writer on April 4, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    I’m trying to do a citation in MLA format. What is the publication date of this website?

  41. Book Recomendation on April 4, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    Have you read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry? I’m using this site for my project on that book.

  42. Kaylin on May 7, 2016 at 10:12 PM

    These are so many good facts that will be in my paper for my project. Also I like how the facts are like explained and note plain. Thank you for all the information.

  43. Alanah L. on May 16, 2016 at 11:37 AM

    I was writing a paper on racial issues in the 30’s as seen in To Kill A Mockingbird and this site came in really helpful! Thank you!

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