From roughly 1910 to 1930 county training schools offered elementary education, secondary instruction, and teacher training for African Americans across the South. The training schools emerged out of a reform effort by northern philanthropists, and coalitions of county school boards, local blacks, and northerners typically founded the schools. Despite the widespread success of training schools in developing black high schools and making African American education a component of county school board policies, the movement failed to generate the kind of progress in Mississippi that it fostered in much of the rest of the South.
In 1882 John F. Slater endowed the Slater Fund with one million dollars to educate southern blacks. Until 1910 the fund donated primarily to church schools affiliated with northern philanthropic and missionary efforts. Under the presidency of James H. Dillard, however, the fund shifted its focus from private institutions to public schools that would serve entire counties and become part of existing school systems. The founding of a county school in Newton in 1911 typified the new approach. Newton County officials, a local organization of blacks, and the Slater fund all contributed to the construction of the school and the hiring of teachers, and the new, large, and centrally located facility served students who had previously attended primitive elementary schools scattered throughout the county. A training school like the one in Newton would have begun as essentially a consolidated elementary school; offerings rarely extended beyond the eighth-grade level at the early training schools. The curriculum gradually expanded as pupils grew older and the percentage of students in secondary classes increased. From the beginning, the training schools did their most impressive work in producing teachers for rural elementary programs. In Mississippi, where as late as 1930 more than thirteen hundred teachers at black elementary schools had no secondary education, the fundamentals of teaching that students learned at the training schools proved invaluable.
In most of the South it took approximately twenty years for training schools to mature into high schools, wean themselves off the financial and structural support of the Slater Fund, and become fully funded by county school boards. By 1933, 65 percent of the region’s Slater Fund schools offered four years of secondary education, and the overwhelming majority of southern counties had developed public education for blacks beyond the level of the training schools. In Mississippi, however, after twenty-one years of Slater aid, only twenty-two of the fifty-four county training schools offered the full four years of secondary education, and more than half of the state’s African Americans lived in counties that did not offer four years of secondary education. In two-thirds of the counties, training schools represented the highest available level of public education. Most alarmingly, only 5 percent of the state’s African American population was enrolled in public secondary, far less than the percentages for Texas (24.4), North Carolina (20), Tennessee (16.7), and Louisiana (9.2). Training schools, in short, joined the long list of missed opportunities for educational development in the state.
- Charles W. Dabney, Universal Education in the South, 2 vols. (1936)
- Edward E. Redclay, County Training Schools and Public Secondary Education for Negroes in the South (1935)