Wiley College
Historically Black College

 

 

 

 

Right after dinner J. W. stepped outside and sauntered down the street. He hadn't gone far when he met a young colored man. "Can you tell me where Wiley College is?" said J. W.
    " I surely can," replied the young chap. "I just came from there myself. Just keep right on down this street and turn to the left when you go up the next rise. It's just on the edge of town. It will take you ten or fifteen minutes to walk out there."
    " Are you a student there?" J. W. asked. "
      Yes, I am in the College Department," said the young man, "but I work several hours each day down here in the drug store."
  " Do many of the students do outside work?" inquired J. W. "
    A good many of the boys, but not many of the girls," answered the Negro. "The people here are good about giving us work. We have students in stores, in banks, in barber shops, and in private homes where they do the outside work around the house, and sometimes the cooking too. The college won't let the girls go out that way though, except in a few special cases. A few work near the campus, and some do work for the college."
    " Thank you for your information," said J. W. "I am a stranger here, and I want to get a glimpse of your school."
    J. W. followed the instructions given as well as he could, but he began to think that it wasn't going to be quite as easy to locate Wiley College as his guide had intimated. He did very soon come, however, to an entrance opening on a wide driveway, flanked on either side by imposing brick and stone pillars mounted with what appeared to be large electric globes. An automobile was coming down the driveway. When it had passed, J. W. stepped inside the gates to discover what sort of a private estate or public institution he had come upon. The place was admirably kept, the drives were shaded, many trees were scattered about the grounds, and there were numerous buildings of various sorts. "I don't know what this place is," said J. W. to himself, "but I'm going to find out."
    With this observation he walked up the driveway toward what appeared to be the central building of the group. It was a fine brick structure, apparently new, and with its many windows J. W. thought that it might serve for almost any purpose from library to tuberculosis sanitarium. Just then his eye caught the letters at the topóW-I-L-E-Y. So this was Wiley! He had made a poor guess; but you must admit it wasn't what J. W. had every reason to expect in a college for Negroes.
    He entered the building, and on a door at the right he read, "President's Office." " I guess this is where I had better stop and get my bearings," thought J. W. as he quietly opened the door and stepped inside.
    Within sat a young woman, busily engaged at a typewriter. She turned as J. W. entered, and he inquired, " Is the president in ?" "
    He is out of the city to-day," said the young woman, "but the dean is here. Would you like to speak to him?"
    Of course J. W. would be pleased to speak to the dean, or to anybody else in a place like this, and so he was ushered into the dean's office. At first he thought the dean must be occupied elsewhere, as there was no one but a young colored man in the room. "Is the dean in?" asked J. W. hesitatingly. "
    He is," said the young man, smiling. "What can I do for you ?" "
    I wasn't sure that you were the dean," said J. W. " I am a Methodist layman, and every year, I suppose, I make a contribution to the work of our Board of Education for Negroes. I understand that this is one of the nineteen schools under the auspices of the Board, and, as I chanced to be in town on other business, I thought that I would take the opportunity of coming out to get a glimpse of what you are doing."
" We certainly are delighted to have you come," said the dean. "I am sorry our president is away. He will be disappointed at missing a visitor from the North. He is a remarkable man, and has given the best of his life to the building up of this school. He is himself a graduate of Rust College, in Mississippi, another one of the schools under the Board of Education for Negroes. In his absence let me have the pleasure of showing you through the buildings and around the grounds. We can get into some of the classes, too, if you would like to see them. This building serves as our main recitation hall, and you will find that we are quite proud of it. We might begin in the basement, and visit each floor in order.
    " At present," he continued, as they went downstairs, " we are conducting our classes in domestic science and domestic art down here." With this he opened a door, and J. W. stepped into a large, well-lighted, steam-heated room. A group of some twenty girls, their dresses protected by neat aprons, were handling shining utensils, evidently engaged in the fascinating occupation of preparing something for the oven. "Is this a part of your regular work?" inquired J. W.
    " Yes, for the girls," replied his guide. "You see, the Woman's Home Missionary Society cooperates in this, and in the work in domestic art. That society supplies the teachers, and, in this case, we supply the rooms. In some of the schools the classes of this sort are conducted in 'Homes,' which are maintained by the society. We have one such 'Home' here too. It is just across from the campus. The girls there get special training in the art of housekeeping and in home- making."
    Across the hall J. W. had a chance to see the classes in millinery and dressmaking, and then from room to room they went throughout the entire building. Many were engaged in recitations; one class was at work in an excellent chemical laboratory, and another in the physics laboratory; there was a moderate-sized assembly hall fitted with stationary chairs, and everywhere the rooms were neat, clean and unmarred.
    As J. W. progressed his amazement grew. "This certainly is a remarkable building!" he ejaculated. "I haven't been long out of college, but this is a better building than we had to study in when I was in school."
    " Would you like to visit one of the classes?" said the dean.
    J. W. remembered, with a little shrinking from such an ordeal, the occasional visitors who dropped into classes at Cartwright. But he was honestly interested. So he said, "I believe I would."
    The class was studying sociology and a rather heated debate was on, over the eternal question whether environment or heredity was the more important factor in influencing an individual's prospects. The teacher acted as a good-natured referee, and made his contribution from time to time to the discussion. All this reminded J. W. how short had been the time since his own college days. The teacher handed him a textbook and, to his surprise, he found that it was the identical textbook he himself had used so recently. Just why he should have been surprised he could not quite know. Certainly, sociology is sociology, regardless of the complexion of the students. And yet, if he had not expected something different, at least he had not expected something quite so familiar.
    Leaving the sociology class, there followed an excursion around the grounds and a look at some of the other buildings. They saw several brick dormitories, one of them so large as to call forth an exclamation of surprise from J. W.
    " Yes, that's a pretty large dormitory," said the dean, " but it's filled, as are all the others. It's one of the largest buildings around this part of the country. Probably, if it was being built now, it wouldn't be made quite so tall; they spread buildings out now more than they used to. We couldn't well get along without that building, though."
    " And what's this?" said J. W., as they passed a long, low, neat building, evidently new.
    " That?" said the guide. "That's our refectory. " We've had it only about a year. We used to be obliged to do our cooking in the basement of the dormitories, and to eat down there too. It kept the whole building smelling of food all the time, and it wasn't a very good place to eat, anyway. Now we feed all of the students in here at one time. We have space for six hundred at the tables. We have a large, well- equipped kitchen, and the arrangement is very much better in every way. Some of the pupils help at meal time, and they pay for their board that way."
    "And here's an athletic field, too, I see," said J. W., "with bleachers and everything."
    "Yes, we make a good deal of athletics," said the dean. "The boys will soon be out here playing baseball now. We have football and basketball too."
    As they walked back across the campus the dean pointed out a number of comfortable homes near the school grounds, where former graduates were living, and he briefly told J. W. of some of their successes in the field of business and elsewhere.
  " Who lives in this house ?" said J. W. as they passed a beautiful white house on the campus.
  " That's the president's home," said the dean.
  " And what's this?" exclaimed J. W., as they suddenly came upon what was in its outer aspect the most beautiful building they had yet seen.
  " I've been saving this to the last on purpose," said the dean. "This is our Carnegie Library. Ours is one of the relatively few Negro schools to which Andrew Carnegie saw fit to give a library. At present we are using the upper floor as a chapel. Our chapel burned some time ago, and we very much need another. The upper floor of this building is the only place we have that is big enough to hold all our pupils. We are getting along quite well that way, as a temporary measure, but we must have a new chapel as soon as possible."
  When they were back once more in the dean's office J. W. said: "The school is wonderful, in its way. But I am even more interested in folks. I wish you would tell me about yourself."
  " I am afraid there isn't much of interest to tell," said the dean. "I was born almost within stone's throw of this campus. My father was a Methodist minister, and so, of course, we moved around more or less. I got most of my education right here in Marshall. I graduated from the college here a few years ago and then studied at Harvard University, specializing in education. For two years I acted as a sort of assistant to the president here, and when the dean was elected president of another school, I was made dean. Some people told the president that I was too young for so much responsibility, but he seemed to think I was the man for the job. I certainly enjoy it. This is a great school, but the president and I have some ideas for making it even better than it is now."
    " I don't mind telling you," said J. W., "that the last few hours to me have been full of surprises. I didn't expect to find any such school as this down here. Are the other schools of the Board of Education for Negroes anything like this ?"
    " Well, I have visited only a few of them," said the dean. "Of course we like to think of our school as the best one of the lot. Three of the schools on the Board's list are professional schools, and different on that account. Then there are several which do not give any college work. Clark University at Atlanta, Georgia, is supposed to be one of the leading schools. It has a large campus and a wonderful new school building made possible by the Centenary. Morgan College has recently been moved to a beautiful new campus just outside of the city of Baltimore, and I understand that Bennett College in North Carolina is being practically remade. Claflin College too, in South Carolina, has had a wonderful development. Then there's Rust College at Holly Springs, Mississippi, and Samuel Huston College down here at Austin, Texas. They've all done fine work. It's hard to make comparisons between them. They say that Haven Institute at Meridian, Mississippi, has one of the finest campuses now. They got a chance to purchase the entire outfit of a white girls' college at a very modest price. They have a big farm, some large and beautiful buildings, and, I am told, nearly forty pianos. They are making quite a specialty of music, and also of their Business Department. They have a swimming pool, running water in every dormitory room, and some other unique features.
    " In one respect, however," the dean continued, "we excel all the schools, I believe."
    " What's that?" asked J. W.
    " I think we have the largest College Department of any of the schools. This year we have one hundred and twenty-five in that department."
    " How do you account for that?" said J. W. "Is it because Texas is such a big State?"
    " Well, Texas is a big State, all right," laughed the dean, "as big as all the Atlantic States from Maine to Virginia inclusive. And we get a good many students from other States too. But the size of Texas doesn't account for our College Department. It's partly because we have quite a number of high schools for Negroes in this part of the country. You know in some Southern States there are almost no public high schools for colored pupils at all. That makes it hard for colleges to do regular college work. There's no way for them to get prepared pupils."
    " What are your departments besides your College Department ?" asked J. W.
    " In addition to our College of Arts and Sciences we have a Preparatory School, a Normal School, a Grammar School, a Commercial School, and a Music School. We also give a special pre-medical course for those who are planning to study medicine."
    " It seems to me that you're doing pretty well here now," said J. W., "but I suppose you have what the Centenary people call 'unmet needs.' What do you need most at present?"
    " I'm not sure what the president would say," answered the dean, "but I would say, as I think he would too, endowment. We desperately need endowment. We've got a pretty good equipment, and a fine student body, and this school can become a great and permanent power if its future can be insured by endowment. At present we live from hand to mouth, and it's a rather precarious existence. " By the way," he continued, "there is one thing I forgot to mention. We now have our school year divided into four quarters, so that the school is in operation practically the year around. Pupils are admitted at the beginning of any quarter. You see the summer is a pretty good time for school down here in this cotton country. After the crop is 'laid by' there isn't so much to do while it's growing. Then every summer we have a summer school for public-school teachers here. During those weeks we have two fully organized schools in operation at the same time. Every spring, too, the Board of Home Missions and Church Extension holds a school for colored rural pastors here. Oh, we keep busy enough."
    " I'm so interested in what you have been saying that I could listen for a long time," said J. W., "but I must be going. I have already taken up 'most all of your afternoon."
    " It's been a pleasure for me," said the dean. "If you ever chance to be in town again, be sure to come out and see us. The next time the president will probably be here, and out of his long experience he can tell you many things which I do not know."
    The evening train which J. W. at first had intended to take had left long before he returned to his hotel, but that was a matter of minor concern. He would lose no time thereby. It merely meant getting up early the next morning. He felt, however, that his intellectual stature had increased about an inch that afternoon, and he could afford to get up early for a good many mornings rather than to have missed the opportunity which he had just enjoyed. He had something to take home to Pastor Drury, and he imagined that he had learned a few facts with which even that good man, usually so well informed, was unfamiliar.

 

 

Sketch from J.W. Thinks Black by Jay Samuel Stowell - 1922 -

 

 

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