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Dudley, James B.(1859–1925) - Educator, college president, Becomes College President, Chronology

black school north carolina

As teacher, school principal, and finally as president of North Carolina’s historically black land-grant college, former slave James B. Dudley helped to shape the educational background of many young black people. A multidimensional man, Dudley used the press as well as his community affiliations to promote black education, black economic development, and civil rights; he did so despite racial hostilities in the state and received the respect and support of blacks as well as whites.

James B. Dudley was born a slave and an only child in Wilmington, North Carolina, to John Bishop and Annie Hatch Dudley, slaves of Edward B. Dudley who was governor of North Carolina from December 1836 to January 1841. Governor Dudley was an advocate of education and one of the state’s most progressive governors. John Dudley was a highly skilled and well-respected carpenter who taught his son the carpentry trade with the aim of equipping him to become self-sufficient. Later, young Dudley used his skill for summer employment to pay his school expenses. Wilmington at that time provided no public schools for its black residents. Determined that their son would be educated, however, the Dudleys saw that their Jimmie, as he was called then, was trained by private teachers. Later he attended Wilmington Normal School, a local institution that the Freedmen’s Bureau established. There his instruction included Latin grammar; all of his teachers were white.

One of Dudley’s teachers, Ella Roper, recognized his talent and encouraged him to continue his education at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, a prestigious high school for blacks founded by the Society of Friends in 1837. Dudley attended the institute for one year and then enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he studied elementary education. Roper and Dudley remained in contact with each other, exchanging letters regularly. At Shaw, Dudley was often in difficulty due to his playing some mischievous prank, but he tempered his sense of humor with serious ambition. Always interested in enhancing his education, sometime later he spent summers studying at Harvard University. Still later he attended historically black Livingstone College in his home state. He was awarded an M.A. and Wilberforce University conferred on him the J.D. These degrees were probably honorary, though. In fact, Warmoth T. Gibbs states in History of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College that Dudley “had limited formal education.”

After his study at Shaw University, Dudley worked as a mechanic’s apprentice. But he had performed well in his studies and soon, upon examination in Sampson County, received a first-grade teacher’s certificate. In 1880, when he was twenty-one, he became a first-grade teacher in that county. The next year he was named principal of the Peabody Graded Normal School in Wilmington, where he remained until 1896. He became known throughout the state and was recognized as one of its most effective educators.

Dudley married Susan Wright Sampson of Wilmington on February 23, 1882; she had also attended Wilberforce University in Ohio and taught in the Peabody school when James Dudley was principal there. Susan Dudley’s artistic and literary talents were recognized later on. The Dudleys had two daughters; one died at a young age, and the other, Vivian, married S. B. Jones, a vice president and college physician at the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, later health officer at St. Kitts in the British West Indies.

In addition to his work in Wilmington as an educator, Dudley edited the weekly black newspaper, the Wilmington Chronicle . He organized the Perpetual Building and Loan Association and used both the Chronicle and the loan association to encourage thrift, economy, and enterprise among black people. He was active in politics as well but never sought political office. In 1891 Dudley’s brother-in-law served as register of deeds for New Hanover County, which helped Dudley remain acquainted with county affairs as well as with national and foreign matters. A Republican, he represented his party at county and state conventions, and in 1896 he was elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention held in St. Louis. His interest in the educational arena continued, as demonstrated by his service on the board of trustees for the Agricultural and Mechanical College (now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, or A&T) in Greensboro. From May 29, 1895 to May 27, 1896, Dudley was secretary of the board.

Becomes College President

Dudley’s service on the board of trustees as well his reputation across North Carolina as a capable educator led to his election as president of A&T on May 28, 1896, a post he held for twenty-nine years. He succeeded founding president John O. Crosby and was the first black to head the school that had been founded in 1891 under the Second Morrill Act, or the Second Land-Grant Act (1890) that made it possible for southern and border states to establish or provide separate black land-grant colleges. Dudley moved swiftly to strengthen the struggling school. When he took charge, there were eight faculty members, fifty-eight students, and two brick buildings that stood on twenty-six acres. By the end of his tenure, there were forty-six faculty members, 476 students enrolled in the winter program and 500 in summer school. He increased the facility as well, increasing the buildings to thirteen and the campus to one hundred acres of land.

Chronology

1859

Born in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 2

1880

Becomes fist-grade teacher in Sampson county, North Carolina

1881

Named principal of Peabody Graded Normal School in Wilmington

1882

Marries Susan Wright Sampson on February 23

1895

Elected secretary to the Board of Trustees, Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) College in Greensboro

1896

Elected president of A&M (later A&T)

1897

Receives M.A. from Livingstone College

1901

Closes female department at A&T

1912

Organizes State Famers’ Union and Cooperative Society

1917

With the federal government, offers A&T as military training site

1920

Appointed state commissioner for the national Memorial Association

1925

Dies in Greensboro, North Carolina on April 4; James Benson Dudley High School in Greensboro named in his honor

His concern for the quality of life for black people was constant. For example, Dudley believed that black faculty could serve the needs of black students at the racially segregated college and, therefore, instituted a gradual transition from white faculty to black. The school was founded to serve the agricultural and technical needs of blacks, hence the name A&T. But Dudley worked to strengthen the agricultural programs that were available; he stressed agricultural training rather than mechanical and industrial. He supported educator and Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington in his work to promote agriculture and public service. So devoted was Dudley to this concept that in 1901 he closed the female department of the college, claiming that women were poorly suited to agricultural pursuits. Moreover, their presence was a disservice to such programs, he reasoned, and hampered their development.

In order to secure annual appropriations for A&T, Dudley followed the tradition of inviting the college’s alumni to meet with the state legislature in Raleigh each year, where they could bring political attention to the school’s needs. He was a talented fundraiser himself and had winning ways with both black and white contributors. Thus, in time he was responsible for lifting the college from near bankruptcy its prestigious position in the state and in the South. He attended conventions and conferences to gather new ideas for the school, and he read widely. He even taught history and civics. His biography in Nathan C. Newbold’s Five North Carolina Negro Educators indicates that he “became a master of detail.”

His concern for black farms and farming led his joining J. H. Bluford, head of the college’s agricultural department, in order to organize in 1912 the State Farmers’ Union and Cooperative Society. Local unions were set up in each county in North Carolina. The union was headquartered at A&T, and aimed to discourage the credit and mortgage system that had been detrimental to the success of black farmers. According to Newbold, the organization also helped black farmers buy and sell products, “control methods of production and the distribution of farm products,” as well as to “secure uniform prices.” The organization succeeded in raising the standards of living among black farmers in the state.

The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 that marked the beginning of federal funding for vocational education programs in the United States proved helpful to Dudley and the college. In 1917, he secured matching funds for the Smith-Hughes appropriations and then established a vocational agriculture department for preparing teachers of agriculture for the public rural schools in North Carolina.

Dudley’s concern was for a well-rounded student. Under his administration, the school held chapel services each Sunday, led by local pastors of different faiths. There was also a flourishing temperance society.

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