During the COVID-19 pandemic, when virtual school became an option for many students, I thought about my school-age family members in rural Arkansas who don’t have access to broadband internet service. Virtual school was never an option for them. For generations, access to education for Black, rural students in America has been an ongoing struggle.
When I thought about my school-age family members and their lack of access to virtual school, I also thought about the Jeanes supervisors who worked to ensure Black, rural students throughout the south had access to education.
I grew up in rural Drew County, Arkansas, and years before I was born, a Jeanes supervisor served my community. The supervisor in Drew County was one of the hundreds of Jeanes supervisors who educated the masses in the rural south and served as exceptional community organizers.
In 1907, Quaker Anna T. Jeanes created a $1 million endowment for Black educators in rural schools throughout the southern United States. The endowment was known as the Negro Rural School Fund or Jeanes Fund. Virginia Randolph, a Black, rural educator, led the way for the Jeanes movement.
Jeanes started the fund to help rural schools that did not receive much private or public funding. The educators who received funding through this endowment were known as Jeanes supervisors. By 1930, the Jeanes Fund had supervisors in over 40% of Southern counties.
The Jeanes supervisors were excellent community leaders who also demonstrated industrial arts expertise. While these were general characteristics of the Jeanes supervisors, these teachers’ work went beyond industrial education and “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.” These educators were public health workers, social justice activists, and community philanthropists.
Public Health Workers
Jeanes supervisors were often at the forefront of organizing and serving rural citizens during public health crises. For example, a massive flood along the Mississippi Delta region of Arkansas left 127 people dead, millions of dollars in property loss, and disease outbreaks. Jeanes supervisors partnered with the American Red Cross and Arkansas home…