In the early 1900s, most of the black children in South Carolina only attended school up until the fourth grade for a few months during the year.
As time progressed, more and more emphasis was placed on increasing the grade levels. And by the early 1950s, both the black and white schools consisted of grades one through 12.
From 1869 until the early 1900s, black educators were trained at Claflin University, Allen University, Benedict College and the South Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical Institute in Orangeburg. These teachers were sent out to all of the counties in the state to extend educational opportunities in the black community.
A wealthy Philadelphia Quaker named Anna T. Jeanes donated $1 million to set up the Negro Rural School Fund
The blacks who could afford to send their children out of the state gave their children the opportunity to obtain a quality education that would lead them to a better financial life. Other black families did their best to have some kind of structured education for their children. And there were those who had to work agricultural jobs to provide for their living conditions.
In 1907, a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker named Anna T. Jeanes donated $1 million to set up the Negro Rural School Fund to provide educational opportunities for the poor black children in the rural South. The focus of this program was to train the blacks in industrial education at first.
These teachers were called “Jeanes Teachers.” Their duties were to train the black teachers in rural schools. They promoted and encouraged self-sufficiency by teaching students and families to sew, bake, do carpentry and learn better health care for their families. These teachers and supervisors were mostly black females.
On May 14, 1935, The Times and Democrat reported: “Gives Report for First Year — Jeanes Teacher Tells of New Activities in this County — The negro Jeanes teacher of Orangeburg County has just closed the first year’s work. A Jeanes teacher is a teacher whose salary is paid 60 percent by the Jeanes Fund and 40 percent by the County Board of Education for the purpose of securing better results from the money invested in Negro schools in the county.
"The teacher who taught during the school year 1934-35 passed through varied experiences. Some of these experiences may be recalled with joy, others with grief.
"In Orangeburg County the Jeanes work was a new field for both the Jeanes worker and the Negro teachers this year. A program of work for the Jeanes teacher was approved by the County Board of Education who instructed the Jeanes worker to install and secure, as far as possible, a unified program of teaching in the Negro schools of this county.
"Some of the goals set forth were repairing of condemned school, the stressing of reading in all grades and the necessity of promoting children from the lower grades and the keeping of accurate school records. Much good was accomplished along these lines.
"Under the leadership of the County Superintendent of Education, a Negro carpenter was secured who repaired 15 condemned school buildings, painted and repaired 38 blackboards, installed 13 new blackboards, constructed 21 sanitary toilets and added improvement and beautification to school buildings and grounds.
"The Jeanes worker takes this opportunity to express appreciation to the Jeanes Fund, the County Board of Education, the County Superintendent of Education, the Superintendent of schools, trustees, teachers, patrons and friends for the splendid cooperation given in the field of work during the past scholastic year.”
As time progressed, the Jeanes Program shifted from a community focus to an educational focus. They started sponsoring reading workshops, in-service programs for teachers, art exhibits and the teaching of how to cooperate with each other.
The demise of the Jeanes Teachers came about in the 1960s as the system of school segregation ended across America. For more than 60 years, the Jeanes Teachers in South Carolina filled the gap in rural education for black South Carolina by providing additional educational opportunities for the people they served.
Richard Reid is president of the Orangeburg Historical and Genealogical Society. His mission is researching Orangeburg history, with a particular emphasis on the role of African-Americans in that history.