Prairie View A&M University
Historically Black College

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketch from History of Education in Texas
by John J. Lane - 1903

PRAIRIE VIEW STATE NORMAL. Industrial education is the prominent, if not general, element of instruction in the normal school which was at first established in 1878 at Prairie View, near Hempstead, as an agricultural school for colored boys, and, seeming to prosper on the original plan, was in 1879 organized under the legally constituted direction of the Agricultural and Mechanical College authorities as a State normal for the training of teachers for the colored schools. As the managers now report to Governor Culberson:

The agricultural and mechanical department for the male and the special industrial department for the female students are in a most prosperous condition, and have added greatly to its popularity and usefulness without interfering with the normal feature of the school.

The report adds:

It is hoped that the university for higher classical education of the colored youth of Texas will eventually be located at this school. This can be done at comparatively little expense to the State by the addition of a few buildings and teachers, and by this means the colored people could obtain an industrial and classical education. The former, all will admit, would be of untold advantage in connection with the higher education, especially to the negro race. We are informed that the negroes throughout the State are practically unanimous in favor of this university plan. We particularly invite your excellency's careful attention to this matter. We believe it would be a great saving to the State and expedite the establishment of the colored university which has so long been asked for by the negro race, and at a point that can not be excelled in all suitable respects anywhere in the State. * * * The average attendance at this school is about 150. Up to the date of filing this report we have for the current year enrolled 165 pupils. Of these, 46 are State students and are required to pay only the matriculation and medical fees. By provision of the board of directors each State senator is allowed to appoint one of these State students from his senatorial district, and each director appoints three from the State at large. Consequently these free students are distributed throughout the State.

It is proposed to increase the number of State students by giving senators and representatives the appointment of one student each, making 159 in all, each student to pay one.-third of the school expenses, instead of being entirely maintained, as heretofore, at the expense of the State. Texas appropriates annually about $10,000 for maintenance of State students, besides several thousand dollars annually for the industrial branches, independent of such appropriations as may be allowed for improvements, etc. The receipts of the school, which are exclusive of appropriations, were $13,64-7 from pay students and other scources from March 15, 1895, to September 1, 1896. The property of the school is inventoried at an aggregate of $93,872, including 1,500 acres of land, valued at $15,000; academic brick hall, $22,500; girls' brick dormitory, $25,000; girls' frame dormitory, $3,000; two boys' domitories, $1,000; brick mess hall, $8,000; six teachers' cottages, $4,500; principal's residence, $1,000; and minor items. The school gets one-fourth of the amount of the Congressional annual provision allowed the State of Texas in aid of colleges of agriculture and the mechanic arts.

The present school registry embraces 87 male and 78 female students. The girls, in addition to academic instruction, are taught the "theory of household economy," sewing, cooking, housekeeping, laundry work, etc. The teachers are all fairly well educated colored men and women. The first principal of the school was L. W. Minor, appointed in June, 1878, his successors being E. H. Anderson, who died soon after his appointment; L. C. Anderson, brother of the deceased, appointed in 1884, and E. L. Blackshear, the incumbent of the position, who was appointed in 1896.

The history of the Prairie View school is logically more or less alluded to in that of the State University and the Agricultural and Mechanical College on account of its quasi connection through the college with the university, and its establishment being so far the only provision made by the State in lieu of the branch of the university contemplated by the constitution for the higher education of colored youth

 

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The report of the principal of the school, Prof. E. L. Blackshear, presents the following favorable statements:

As a normal school Prairie View steadily grew and prospered. Its graduates are found in all parts of the country, making commendable records as teachers in the schoolroom and as citizens in the community. There is a great demand everywhere among our people for teachers of character, culture, ability, and professional skill, and Prairie View must help to supply this demand.

The elevation of the negroes of Texas to that standard of development where they can be a harmonious and helpful factor in the life of the State concerns every patriot and statesman. Thin can be done only by giving them proper education. It is the personality of the teacher—thedirect, Immediate influence of his mind and character upon the pupils—that educates. As is the teacher so is the school, so are the scholars. Excellent systems of public instruction and liberal appropriations therefor are valueless and ineffective without true teachers. There is no economy in poor teachers at any price. The State is expending annually large sums of money for the impartial education of all the children in her borders, and this money is worse than wasted unless skillful and devoted teachers are employed to carry out the spirit and letter of her school laws. Hence the necessity of maintaining a normal school for the preparation and training of a sufficient number of the right kind of teachers for the colored schools. Results thus far have amply demonstrated the wisdom of the directors in establishing and of the State in maintaining Prairie View State Normal School.

The work of a colored teacher involves special difficulties. He is more than a teacher; he is a missionary of civilization, teaching the fundamental duties of society and citizenship. Believing that the colored people of Texas needed not only trained, intelligent, moral teachers, but trained, intelligent, .moral mechanics and farmers as well, the board of directors some years ago established here, ih connection with the normal school, an agricultural department and a mechanical department, so that now the pupils of our school can learn not only the elements of language, history, mathematics, and science, but the practical arts of life and modes of living as well

 

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The importance of the industrial element in education is recognized by all, and its special importance to the negro, who is just now laying the basis for his social development, is easily apparent. Industry, intelligence, and morality are the trinity that must maintain the unity of a progressive society. The masses of the negroes, engaged as they are in agriculture and other forms of manual labor, must learn the industrial virtues of frugality, economy, promptness, energy, accuracy, and reliability; must mix brains, skill, and character with their efforts before their labor can become desirable and properly productive. The South has always preferred negro labor, but even the Southern people have grown weary of the unreliability, shiftlessness, and unskillfulness of much of the negro labor. Thus the conclusion is inevitable that unless the negro laborers become intelligent, skillful, and reliable, they are doomed to serfdom and extinction. But give them industrial training, along with appropriate intellectual and moral training, and they will become a very helpful and important element in the development of the resources of the South. The colored boys should have opportunity to get insight and training into the modern methods of agriculture. The educated colored farmer will reflect credit on his community and on his State.

While the negroes need the opportunities of industrial training, the opportunity for higher education can not be justly denied those who evince talent and have desire in that direction. Recognizing this fact, a committee is at work on a higher course of study, in anticipation of the proposed gradual conversion of the Prairie View school into a university for the colored youth of the State, which shall include, in addition to its present departments, an academic department with its various subsidiary schools.

It was following the civil war, and in keeping with a disposition to afford to the freedmen of the State better means for the education of their children, leading to provision being made in the constitution of 1876 for a "branch of the university for the education of colored youth," that the sixteenth legislature, in 1879, passed the law for the organization and support of the normal school at Prairie View, formerly Alta Vista, in Waller County, near Hempstead, for "the preparation and training of colored teachers." By placing it under the control of the Agricultural and Mechanical College directory, it was sought to have it recognized as virtually a branch of the college branch of the university, and thus indirectly by such correlation entitled to some benefit from the university fund by making appropriations for it from that fund. Some of these, it seems, were allowed, till Comptroller Brown raised and successfully adhered to the objection that such appropriations were not constitutional—an issue which was certainly quite correct, if for no other reason than the fact that the school was not the branch of the university required by law, for that was to be located at Austin. The legislature having, however, insisted on making such provision for it from the university fund. Governor Roberts was at first inclined, in opposition to the views of the comptroller, to regard the appropriations as a tacit recognition of the school by the legislature as a substituted branch of the university for the benefit of the colored people, and to treat it accordingly. But the idea that the school as a branch of the college, which itself was only a branch of the university, could claim succor from the university fund, while presenting the anomaly of being succored by that fund as if it were a branch of the main institution instead of being a dependency of the dependent college branch, was too clearly an assumption, however desirable the effort to establish the colored branch. The legislation was too indirect to hold, and the result was that no further appropriations for the school from the university fund were attempted: but the school has since been liberally maintained by the State from other means, and is a source of great satisfaction to the colored people, short of a university of their own, operated independently of the existing university.

The last session of the legislature passed an act making a grant of 100,000 acres of land for a " colored branch," as it is called, of the State University, the bill being introduced and ably advocated bv Representative Smith, of Colorado County, a Republican, and the sole colored member of the legislature. It was supported also by a number of prominent members in both houses, as a platform measure meeting little, if any, opposition in either body. Further than this action no practical step has been taken to put the matter into effect, and it unfortunately transpires, under recent investigation and rulings of the State authorities, that no public domain appears to be left from which to set apart the grant. Various .suggestions, however, have been made with reference to establishing the school—one looking to purchasing for it the property of the Tillotson Institute, a school for educating negroes which has been in operation many years at Austin, and another to establish it at Prairie View and make the school there a normal department of the new establishment. A more radical proposition, involving constitutional amendment, is to establish the branch for colored students in the Agricultural and Mechanical College premises at Bryan, for which the grounds and buildings are suitable— provided, of course, the change can be made acceptable to the people of that section—and remove the college from Bryan to Austin and merge its managing board and the university board into one body of regents and unite the college and university faculties also into one body for a new faculty; or, as there is nothing in the constitution fixing the college at Bryan, simply amend the statutes on the subject so as to locate both the college and the colored branch of the university at Austin, compensating the Bryan people for the removal of the college by donating to them, if acceptable, the college grounds and buildings at Bryan for a cotton factory or school, or other purposes of their own. As has been suggested, the removal of the college to Austin would be desirable for many reasons, and especially in dispensing with dual equipments necessary to serve the separate establishments. As to the colored school, however, it would seem to be the better policy to dissociate it altogether from the university, no matter where the school may be located, since a colored branch of a university mainly devoted to the interests of white students has come to be about as incongruous in this State as would be a branch for whites attached to a university mainly devoted to the interests of colored people, if for no other reason than the natural incompatibility of such association of educational institutions. On this very point the suggestion some years ago of a correspondent of the Galveston News is in line:

Without reference to the present needs of the university it is well to consider what trouble the colored people may give. They have the right to enter at the Bryan College and at the university here, more especially at Bryan, for that college is supported by a national endowment, so that it might be well to consider the propriety of making the Agricultural and Mechanical College the colored branch of the university for teaching agriculture and the mechanics and transferring the literary and other college departments to the main university at Austin. This would solve the colored problem, and is under consideration.

Fortunately, so far the colored problem has not been pressed, but it would seem to be politic to provide for such a contingency on some of the plans suggested, and preferably, no doubt, if the object can be accomplished, by establishing a separate university for the colored people, on account of its being most satisfactory to them as well as agreeable to the white people of the State. At all events, the contingencies present questions about which, perhaps, the State should feel more concern than it has heretofore manifested, though it may well be claimed that it has made important advances, despite some errors in its eiforts in behalf of the education of the colored race. In the constitution of 1866, adopted just after the close of the civil war, when the intention was to benefit the freedmen, the following provision was made:

All the taxes which may be collected from Africans or persons of African descent in the State shall be exclusively appropriated for the maintenance of a system of public schools for Africans and their children, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to encourage schools among these people.

The mistake was in imagining in the absence of statistics that the tax on the Africans applied exclusively for their benefit would produce a larger revenue than would their pro rata share of the tax from the combined white and colored population, which was not the fact on account of the negroes, though very numerous, being still not so many as the whites and having but little property compared with that of the white people. Such special provision was, however, dropped from the constitution of 1876, thus allowing for the education of colored children the benefit of a pro rata of the State's entire school fund instead of the limited amount collected by taxation from colored people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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