UVa Library Press Releases 1998 - 1999
U.VA. LIBRARY TO DIGITIZE PHOTOS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN EDUCATION
Contact: Michael Plunkett, director of Special Collections at (804) 924-3998 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the early part of this century, Virginia spent $3.20 a year to educate African-American children, less than a third of what it spent to school white children. Black children had shorter school years than white children and black teachers earned about half the salaries of their white counterparts.
Yet these inequalities don't even begin to describe the deplorable conditions under which dedicated African-American teachers labored to educate their young pupils in the opening decades of the 20th century.
Those conditions, the determination of the teachers to teach and the pupils to learn can still be seen today thanks to the remarkable photographic record left by Jackson Davis. A Virginia native and white educator, Davis spent much of his career studying the educational policies of Southern states and traveling throughout the South to examine the effects of those policies on the ground.
Among Davis' many achievements was the creation of a visual document of the condition of African-American education in the South in the early 1900s.
The collection of more than 4,000 photographs taken by Davis during his long career has been available to scholars in Charlottesville since 1948, when Davis' daughter placed it with the University of Virginia Library.
Now, a recent $241,306 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services will enable the library staff to post Davis' photo collection on the Internet, making it available to scholars, geneologists, students and the interested public worldwide.
"This continues our efforts towards digitization of our photographic archives," said Michael Plunkett, director of special collections. "These may be the only surviving photos to depict African-American education in the South during this period."
The Davis collection has been catalogued and about 40 percent of the photos have been identified, according to Plunkett. The grant provides two years of funding for the library staff to identify, digitize, arrange, describe and conserve the photographs taken from 1915 to 1930. The online posting should be complete by late November 2000.
Davis' camera was objective, yet sometimes showed people and places in heart-rending detail. The ramshackle sheds that often served as schools bore witness to grinding poverty as well as to the determination of blacks to better themselves. The Civil War had brought freedom, but not prosperity nor the dignity that comes with education.
Davis (1882-1947) was born in Cumberland County, Va., and attended Richmond public schools. He received his bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary and a master's from Columbia University. After graduation from William and Mary, Davis served as principal of the public schools of Williamsburg and later held administrative posts in Marion, Va., and Henrico County. He was a member of the state board of examiners and inspectors of the Virginia State Board of Education from 1909-10 and from 1910-15 was state agent for African-American rural schools for the Virginia State Department of Education.
In 1915, Davis became affiliated with the General Education Board in New York, N.Y. as a field agent, serving that organization in various capacities, including vice president and director in 1946. He was also a trustee of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, an organization devoted to African-American education and race relations both in American and in Africa. He became vice president of the fund in 1940 and succeeded Anson Phelps Stokes as president in 1946. During the years of his association with the General Education Board its work was concentrated on education in the Southern states and Davis' influence on behalf of better relations and understanding between whites and African-Americans and his pioneer work in promoting regional centers of education in the South were of immense significance.
"For more than 45 years, he lit lamps in this darkness of the mind," read his obituary in the Richmond News Leader in 1947. "Scores of new schools, thousands of new hopes and ambitions, developed in the light he created....Men and women of both races will mourn his death."
A year ago, the U.Va. Library put thousands of historic photographs of Charlottesville and Albemarle County and of turn of-the-century white and African-American residents on the web from the library's Holsinger Studio Collection. Local commercial photographer Rufus Holsinger snapped a photographic record of life in Charlottesville and the surrounding area from the late 19th century into the 1920s.
Alderman Library is one of 41 recipients selected from more than 250 applications for the first series of National Leadership Grants. The program is designed to help libraries address pressing needs in education research and preservation and to extend the reach of their materials through the use of technology.
Contact: Michael Plunkett at (804) 924-3025.