Laboratory of Learning: HBCU Laboratory Schools and Alabama State College Lab High in the Era of Jim Crow

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Journal Article

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Journal of Negro Education

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While I do not deny that Embree’s views on race were progressive for the time, Perkins could have problematized the simplistic notion that the Rosenwald fund was extraordinarily dedicated to improving race relations. For example, while the Rosenwald fund was building schools for rural Blacks in the South and subsidizing Black students in graduate school, Rosenwald’s Sears Roebuck Company continually excluded Blacks from its labor force (Steinberg, 2007). Based on the picture Perkins has painted of the life of Edwin Rogers Embree, we would assume that he would have been constantly pressing Rosenwald to end this lamentable practice. On the contrary, after Rosenwald’s death, Embree simply stated that although Mr. Rosenwald was upset by his inability to change the company’s hiring practices, he refused to change the policy because it might have created antagonism toward Blacks. Including this would have served as an excellent example of one of the ways in which Embree was a product of his times. Despite its flaws, Perkins’ work is an excellent and well-researched account of a life that has not been heavily acknowledged by scholars. Students of philanthropy, sociology, and history will likely enjoy this work, and it provides a fascinating account of how foundations affected the development of race relations in the 20th century. Perkins’ account gives us an animated picture of a unique individual, one whose progressive leadership of the Rosenwald fund paved the way for the advocacy and social justice-oriented foundations of today. REFERENCE Steinberg, S. (2007). Race relations: A critique. Stanford: Stanford University Press. • Laboratory of Learning: HBCU Laboratory Schools and Alabama State College Lab High in the Era of Jim Crow by Sharon Gay Pierson. New York: Peter Lang, 2014, 308 pp., $159.95, hardback. Reviewed by Worth Kamili Hayes, Tuskegee University. In Laboratory of Learning, educational historian Sharon Gay Pierson seeks to dispel the myth of inferior Black education prior to Brown v Board of Education of Topeka (1954) by highlighting the obscured history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ (HBCU) laboratory schools. Examining Alabama State College’s lab school, her work fits firmly within the tradition of scholars such as Vanessa Siddle Walker (1996) and David Cecelski (1994) who have also shown the value of Black institutions in the Jim Crow South. However, Pierson’s work does not simply add another case study. It argues that laboratory schools had a broader impact on southern Black education that extended beyond their individual campuses. The book is divided into two sections. Part one provides a context for the laboratory school by focusing on the growth of Black secondary education and pedagogical trends at the turn of the 20th century. Pierson noted that not only was southern education separate and unequal, but Black high schools were often nonexistent as Alabama saw little utility in providing anything more than an elementary education to African Americans. Until World War I, the few high schools available to African Americans were often found on the campuses of Black colleges. Alabama State’s laboratory school offered its students a liberal arts education inspired by progressive theorists such as John Dewey, George Counts, and Harold Rugg. School administrators also deftly avoided the “industrial education” model, a remarkable feat as the philosophy’s headquarters at Tuskegee Institute lay less than fifty miles away. A particular strength of the book was its discussion of African Americans in the progressive educational movement. Far too often scholars pay scant attention to the ways African Americans contributed to or were affected by various currents in mainstream educational reform. As Pierson persuasively argues, the progressive movement’s emphasis on exploring how democracy in the classroom could be used to battle societal inequality had a great appeal to African Americans. Alabama Sate championed this and other student-centered methods in their classrooms. These 422 ©The Journal of Negro Education, 2014, Vol. 83, No. 3 ideas were spread to a larger audience by the school’s alumni, visitors who attended Alabama State’s annual teaching institutes and other functions, and Black teacher organizations such as the Alabama State Teachers Association and the National Association of Teachers in...


Education, HBCU




Journal of Negro Education