Dual Benefits?: Black Students, White Philanthropy, and the Desegregation of Private Southern Prep Schools

Thursday, January 3, 2013: 1:00 PM
Rhythms Ballroom 2 (Sheraton New Orleans)
Michelle Purdy, Michigan State University
In the post-Brown era, leaders of historically white, elite independent schools—private schools characterized by high academic standards and as catalysts for the creation of power networks and the accumulation of social capital—bended toward the national desegregation climate and began to diversify student populations. By 1960 only one-third of such schools had enrolled a black student. By 1967, over 3,700 black students were attending independent schools, and within three years this number increased to over 7,600. This post-Brown story, largely absent from the desegregation historiography, extends the long history concerned with the relationship between southern black educational history and white philanthropic organizations. To distinguish themselves from segregationist academies or havens for white students fleeing public school desegregation, independent school leaders created and supported a variety of initiatives including those of philanthropic organizations to recruit students of color.

This paper examines one such organization: the Stouffer Foundation, a white southern organization that between 1967 and 1976 provided scholarships to nearly 140 students of color, mostly black students to desegregate and attend southern K-12 elite private schools. Anne Forsyth, the founder, was the daughter of Anne C. Stouffer and granddaughter of R.J. Reynolds, owner of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In addition to believing that the program would aid black students, Forsyth rationalized starting the program because of the benefits she believed both black and white students would acquire. Through archival research and oral history interviews of Stouffer Foundation leaders and recipients, this paper interrogates this underlying assumption by considering the ways in which Stouffer Foundation administrators recruited students, prepared them to enter into these educational spaces, and supported their matriculation. Moreover, this story captures the ways in which perceived such liberal notions and practices intersected with the realignment of the conservative South.

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