Friday, February 18, 2011

Jim Crow Laws, Education and the Justin Morrill Land Grant College Acts

Justin Morrill fought Jim Crow laws from 1862 until 1890 to pass Land Grant College Acts to allow the establishment of black colleges.

Justin Smith Morrill U.S. House & Senate (1855 -1898) "Father of Land Grant College Acts" (1862 &1890)
Justin Smith Morrill
U.S. House & Senate
(1855 -1898)
"Father of Land Grant
College Acts"
(1862 &1890)

Justin Morrill’s first Land Grant College Act, passed in 1862, providing public land sales to fund public higher educational institutions, was a direct threat to Jim Crow laws. The exact language was, "An act donating public lands to the several states and territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and mechanic arts." The threat is implicit in the fact that black education would become a subject of debate.

This meant that the schools established under the jurisdiction of former Confederate states were Jim Crow laws dictated public schools and higher education, white only, excluding former slaves from higher education. In an effort to guarantee higher education for the former slave population, Morrill was finally able to pass a new Land Grant College Act for public colleges in 1890. This law prohibited Jim Crow states from using their 1862 federal land grant funds for the education of white students only.

The Morrill Land Grant College Act specified that former Confederate states cease claiming separate but equal colleges for different races, unless they divided public federal land auction funds appropriately for the college education of former slaves. If former Confederate states operating under Jim Crow laws did not comply with the Morrill Act, they would lose federal land grant college funding or have to allow all students, regardless of color, to attend their formerly segregated schools.

In former slave states, still operating under Jim Crow laws, the 1890 College Land Grant Act threatened local order, custom and southern convention with civil rights for African Americans. Congressmen representing those states were at odds with the law and Morrill for introducing it. However, southern congressmen had no choice but to agree to public college education for African American students because they did not want their existing public colleges to be subject to integration as Morrill’s law mandated.

Agricultural & Mechanical Training Black Colleges 1890s To Improve Literacy & Employment
Agricultural & Mechanical Training
Black Colleges 1890s
To Improve Literacy
& Employment
Eventually Morrill got his way, in spite of the friction he probably caused among his fellow congressmen from the South and others living in the South. Each southern state without an African American Land Grant College by 1890 established one under the second Morrill Act. Throughout the South, this Act established sixteen black public colleges and universities, known as the 1890 Land Grant Institutions. 

As America transitioned from rural agricultural to  urban industrial, the Land Grant College Act of 1890 extended higher education to those formerly excluded. The act also expanded education from exclusively normal school or teacher training to include in science, agriculture and engineering, as well as classical studies previously reserved for the clergy, teachers, physicians and lawyers, which had been considered the domain of the white male elite, leaving out black students and poor white students like Morrill had been.

ustin Morrill Family at Home Morrill Home, Strafford, Vermont
Justin Morrill Family at Home
Morrill Home, Strafford, Vermont 

Justin Smith Morrill, born in Strafford, Vermont, in 1810, was the son of a blacksmith making enough of a living to tend his family and homestead and not earning enough money to spend on Morrill’s education when he came of college age. Morrill, who deeply believed in education for his own sake, as well as the good of the nation’s youth and others who wanted to attain a better life, was forced to leave school at age 15. His family could not afford to send him to a college or university, all of which were still private institutions at that time. These private schools were expensive and mostly available only to wealthy students. Instead, Morrill went to work as a clerk in a general store  and later entered a partnership in a mercantile business. Morrill's mercantile career in Strafford and Derby, Vermont, spanned 1830 to 1896. Lack of formal academic training did not prevent Morrill from educating himself in architecture, landscaping and gardening. He designed and built an impressive Gothic Revival home in Strafford, Vermont, the place of his birth.

Mercantile District, Vermont 1880s
Mercantile District, Vermont 1880s
Vermont Historical Society (Montpelier 05609-0901) says, Upon completing his two years with the Harris’s, Morrill went to Portland, Maine, and worked as a bookkeeper for Daniel Fox’s West Indies shipping business, and then in the dry-goods business of Jeremiah Dow. In 1830 he returned to Strafford and was requested to help close and settle the mercantile business of the late Ralph Hosford, and his partners, Latham and Kendrick. After completing that job he again worked for Jedediah Harris and the 1834 became his partner in a store known as Harris and Morrill. It was located in the lower village in Strafford but eventually they operated two additional local stores, plus one in Derby Line, Vermont. In 1840 Harris and Morrill joined with N. S. Young to form a new partnership known as Morrill, Young, and Company, and operated a store in the Upper Village. Based on evidence in this collection Morrill was also involved in businesses known as Morrill, George and Company (ca. 1845-1851), with Alonzo George (1822-1895); and Morrill, Russ, and Company (ca. 1850-1851).

ustin Morrill Homestead
Justin Morrill Homestead
Although still nominally involved in several partnerships, Morrill effectively resigned from business in 1848. At the time of his early retirement from business Morrill was preparing to build a house in Strafford in anticipation of his 1851 marriage to Ruth Barrell Swan (ca. 1820-1898). In 1855 he began a long and distinguished career in public service. From 1855 Morrill represented Vermont first as a congressman then in 1866 as a senator where he gained recognition for his Land Grant College Acts of 1862 and 1890. Justin and Ruth Morrill had two children: Justin Harris (1853-1855), and James Swan (b. 1857). Because of his long tenure in government the Morrills built a house in Washington, D.C. but maintained the house in Strafford. Justin Morrill died in 1898.
Morrill was unable financially to attend college and knew many other young people, black and white, who were in the same predicament. Still obsessed with education after being elected to Congress in 1855, his goal became focused on making United States a place that would provide an affordable higher education to its populace, both black and white. Also after going to Congress, his other interest was the mercantilist theory of commerce, about which he made speeches and promotional efforts.

Greensboro, North Carolina, 1890s Downtown had a number of brick & granite structures.
Greensboro, North Carolina, 1890s
Downtown had a number of brick
& granite structures.

The 1890 Land Grant College Act established North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University (NC A&T) when North Carolina's General Assembly "mandated a separate college for the colored race," satisfying Morrill’s law and the ‘separate but equal’ requirements of the former Confederate South. This new legislation provided for black higher education--although separate but not equal--that the first Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 had provided for white students only.

By February 1, 1960, which was the start of the Woolworth's sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, discrimination that had been the status quo in the South for decades was becoming harder for some young black students to tolerate. Fueled by the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, led by Rosa Parks, times and attitudes were changing. Promises of Emancipation in 1865 that had not been kept, had grown stale nearly 100 years later and people, talking in the churches, neighborhoods and classrooms, had become restless. Among those young and restless black students were four NC A&T freshmen, to become known as the Greensboro Four. 

Woolworth Sit-ins Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), and David Richmond
Woolworth Sit-ins
Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain,
Ezell Blair, Jr. (Jibreel Khazan),
and David Richmond

Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), and David Richmond made history when they sat down at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The well-dressed, soft-spoken young men had planned their assault on Jim Crow laws in the Jim Crow South when they designed and executed the nonviolent Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth's Sit-ins. Follow link for the related article. or there will be other opportunities for the link later in the post.

These laws prevented African Americans and others of color from being served a meal at Woolworth’s Five & Dime lunch counter, even after they had spent their money in the retail section of the store. Adopting local customs regarding race, based the color of a patron’s skin, the policy public and private facilities like Woolworth’s was uniformly enforced throughout the South and some parts of the West, North and East.  

Clara Luper Arrested For Protesting
Clara Luper Arrested
For Protesting
Deliberately and thoughtfully, the Greensboro Four sized up the matter and devised a plan of nonviolent protest, the sit-in. Sit-ins were not new in America but no sit-in had the impact on American society like the one led by the Greensboro Four. In fact, in 1958, Clara Luper led the first sit-in in U.S. history to be publicized. As a result, she integrated Katz Drugstore lunch counter in Oklahoma City and motivated similar actions in other parts of the state, contributing to the integration of Oklahoma An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before: Alternative Views of Oklahoma His (Google Affiliate Ad). The publicity stirred up by Luper’s achievement prompted other groups and individuals like the Greensboro Four to launch sit-ins around the nation.

North Carolina and other parts of the Deep South, as well as the rest of the United States had a long and painful history of segregation and discrimination. After the Civil War, however, attempts were made during Reconstruction to dismantle the old Jim Crow system, a body of legislation restricting opportunities along racial lines that was firmly in place from 1877, the end of Reconstruction, until the middle 1960s. Jim Crow was a way of life, instituted during slavery and later sanctioned by the 1896 Supreme Court Decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, a case involving an African American man suing the railroad on the claim of discrimination because he was prevented from using his first-class train ticket. He lost. African Americans lost. The nation lost.

“Who was Jim Crow?” I asked my grandmother in 1960 when I was nine years old.

“A minstrel show character with a shiny painted black face and big white lips,” Bigmama told me. “Two nations under God, one ‘white only’ and the other one ‘colored.’ They wrote laws to keep us from using their restrooms, drinking from their water fountains, trying on clothes in a store, eating with them, going to school with them, marrying them and being buried under the same dirt with them.”

Allen Preyer III Son of Woolworth's Sit-ins Observer, Greensboro NC
Allen Preyer III
Son of Woolworth's Sit-ins
Observer, Greensboro NC
“But my father was no hero of the civil rights movement,” wrote Allan Preyer III, white Greensboro resident who was seven years old in 1960. He was simply a representative of his generation of white Americans, prompted to examine his attitude toward race in America by circumstances, beginning with his witnessing the events of February 1, 1960, in Greensboro. Like many, his evolution of thought was sometimes bold, sometimes reluctant, and never fully free of the conditioning of his youth. But something about my vicarious participation in my father's experience opened my young eyes to the generation of everyday heroes all around me: the young African American girl who eased shyly into my fourth-grade classroom, integrating my public school; the young African American boy who first integrated my previously all-white boarding school; and literally thousands of others who broached hurdles less recognized than the Woolworth's lunch counter.” 

Library of Congress 1890
Library of Congress 1890
During his tenure as a Representative from 1855 to 1867, and Senator from 1867 to 1898, Justin Smith Morrill is credited with creating the Library of Congress and the Washington Monument, in addition to establishing the Morrill Land Grant College Acts. His legacy, however, is helping black and white students to acquire what he could not—a college education.

Morrill's legacy, though, is his push for an educated American populace. The following list sketches the Land Grant Colleges by the date they became Land Grant Colleges, not the date they came into existence. For a complete list of Land Grant Colleges established by the Morrill Land Grant College Acts of 1862 and 1890 in the United States of America and their history, visit: List of Land Grant Colleges.

When I wrote my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, there was no FaceBook, which requires precautions against political correctness. because communications one key stroke away from insulting someone.

Follow Sunny Nash @ Twitter
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Communications have changed and are light years ahead of the tools I used writing my book and columns on a personal computer. I had no idea how easy it would become to inflict  political incorrectness.

Join Sunny Nash on Huffington Post
Also join me on Huffington Post for my comments and discussions on civil rights, race relations, politics, style, entertainment and other pressing issues of the day.


Paying for College  By Peterson's (COR)
Paying for College
By Peterson's (COR)
(Google Affiliate Ad)
Everybody Else's Guide  to Getting Into College:  Even If You're a Procr
Everybody Else's Guide
to Getting Into College:
Even If You're a Procr
(Google Affiliate Ad)
Parents today can get help from a number of sources, including books currently on the market. There are many easy-to-use tools and other products with chapters dedicated to specific preparation methods and lists of preparation resources that can be consulted by students, parents and counselors.

Students pay attention to getting into college, as well as college scholarships and other means of paying for college. A significant difference in going to college today and going to college years ago is the expense. Like everything else, a college education that requires loans can leave a student in debt for decades after graduation. 


Some land grant colleges still sponsor full scholarships to qualifying students. For example, USDA/1890 National Scholars Program is a program that combines efforts of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the colleges establish under the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1890, an act in which Justin Morrill wrote legislation to include funding for Historically Black Land-Grant Universities to educate students of former slave families in higher education. For more information on this scholarship program, follow the link above. 

To get even more insight into the civil rights era, read my book,

Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash

Sunny Nash Author, Producer Photographer
Sunny Nash
Author, Producer
Chosen by the Association of American University Presses as one of its essential books for understanding race relations in the United States, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolwort's (Texas A&M University Press) by the award-winning author, Sunny Nash, is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.

Robin Fruble of Southern California said, “Every white person in America should read this book (Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s)! Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world.  But, if your skin color is brown, it matters a great deal to a great number of people. I needed to learn that. Sunny Nash is a great teacher,” Fruble said.

Sunny Nash’s book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, can be purchased from all major bookstores and by following the link below.

BuyBigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash

Related Articles by Sunny Nash

Woolworth's sit-ins by black and white college students in Greensboro NC between February and July 1960 integrated lunch counters
across the nation.

Race relations in America and Southern California were changed by 12 African American women who made a difference in Long Beach, featured in historical profiles,
BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way.

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