Greensboro Female College and Greensboro in the Jim Crow Era, 1900-1954
Along with the imposition of full-scale legal segregation and disfranchisement in Greensboro in 1900, came increasing economic racism. At the turn of the century, half of all the city’s skilled tradesmen were black. By the 1920s, the portion was miniscule and remained so. Working class black families in Greensboro relied on the income of both husbands and wives, who labored as domestics and laundresses for white clients. That said, a large and segregated black population also supported the growth of a black middle and professional class in Greensboro of small business owners, lawyers, doctors, ministers and school teachers and administrators. African Americans of all classes clustered together in four main neighborhoods in Greensboro, including nearby Warnersville. In turn, those black communities continued to draw strength from their own churches, civic organizations, such as the African American YMCA and YWCA, and especially private and public schools.
Greensboro’s Black Schools
Bennett College’s prospects declined somewhat through the 1910s. But it then emerged in 1926 with reaccreditation, a shift from co-educational to women’s education and a growing enrollment and endowment by the 1950s.
|Bennett College basketball team, 1932|
|Courtesy Greensboro Historical Museum|
While GFC and Bennett were sister institutions with the United Methodist Church, the two groups of faculty and students had almost nothing to do with one another before the late 1940s.
Greensboro had begun, before most other school districts in North Carolina, to commit to supporting segregated public schools for its black children in the mid-1870s. By the 1910s, the city boasted five black public schools that provided instruction through the middle grades, more than any other city in the state. All of Greensboro’s public black schools remained totally unequal to the white schools in all areas of resources, except teacher salaries, through the mid-1940s. Despite that, black teachers at all levels demanded the most from their black students and instilled in them a strong sense of racial pride and purpose.
In 1922, JC Price School in Warnersville replaced the old Ashe Street School. Through the 1950s, under the leadership of Principal A. H. Peeler, Price gained national recognition for the quality education it provided its third through ninth-graders for the next 50 years.
|J.C. Price School|
|Courtesy Greensboro College|
Meanwhile, the city opened Dudley High School in 1929 and two other black grade school-junior high school, Lincoln and Gillespie, in the 1930s. The best Dudley graduates went on to study at Bennett or NC A& T, the city’s public, state-supported African American university.
Early Civil Rights Activism and Interracialism, 1945-1954
Imbued with a sense of community pride and purpose behind the veil of segregation, and fueled by discontent with the racial status quo, black youth and adults in Greensboro pushed against the edges of White Supremacy and tested the limits of white Greensboro’s self-conscious racial progressivism from the 1930s through the early 1950s. Greensboro’s NAACP membership grew, especially after the end of World War II. Black leaders also formed the Greensboro Citizens Association in 1949 as an umbrella organization to promote black rights generally and black voting specifically. Black candidates also began regularly running for city-wide offices in 1933 and continued to rebuild political power until Dr. William Hampton, GCA president, won a seat on the city council in 1951. He was only the third black North Carolinian elected to local office in a majority white city since 1900. Hampton was then appointed to the city school board in 1954; the same year the US Supreme Court issued the Brown decision. For more on Greensboro’s response to the ruling and the process of school desegregation from 1954 through the early 1970s, see the next section of the exhibit on that period.
By the early 1950s, some genuine white racial liberalism was emerging in Greensboro. For example, in addition to a growing and organized black vote, Hampton owed his election in 1951 to winning 41 percent of the white ballots as well. In addition, the southeast regional office of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social justice organization headquartered in High Point, branch lobbied white Greensboro businesses to hire black employees and suggested school desegregation from the late 1940s through the 1950s. The AFSC and Guilford College also promoted interracial contacts between the city’s white and black campuses. GC hosted on such meeting in 1947.
In April of that same year, the Congress of Racial Equality’s Journey of Reconciliation made its way to Greensboro. The Journey of Reconciliation was an early example of non-violent biracial direct action. A sixteen-person team of eight black and eight white men, set off from Virginia on a Greyhound bus in an effort to test the application of a 1946 US Supreme Court ruling which had outlawed segregated seating on interstate buses. The JOR riders also planned to challenge segregated accommodations in the bus stations along the way. They also held meetings and rallies with local black communities in stops along the way, including Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Asheville before continuing on into Tennessee and Kentucky. They found some of their largest and most supportive crowds in Greensboro. Greensboro’s police also declined to arrest riders as had police in other towns along the way. The JOR riders did not meet with any GC faculty or students, or any other white Greensboro residents.
To learn more about the 1947 JOR in North Carolina, visit the “Freedom Ride” entry on LearnNC’s “Digital North Carolina History” textbook.
Despite this growing black activism and evidence of white racial liberalism into the early 1950s, serious challenges to Greensboro’s racial status quo required the leverage of outside intervention and new forms and levels of indigenous protest, which came after 1954.