Thursday, February 10, 2011

February is Black History Month

Photo courtesy of The Shreveport Times
Charlotte Watson Mitchell, Jeanes Teacher

In the early to mid twentieth century, to find the leaders of African-American communities, look in the schools. The most educated and often highly regarded members of the community were there, working as school teachers or administrators. One of these leaders was “Jeanes Supervisor” Charlotte Mitchell who is known today as the namesake of the Charlotte Ann Mitchell Educational Center in Bossier City.

The Anna T. Jeanes Fund was another Southern-wide fund from a Northern benefactor to improve black children’s education like the Rosenwald Fund, which was created by a wealthy Jewish benefactor to build model school buildings for African-American children across the South. Anna T. Jeanes was a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker woman who in 1907 set aside money to provide aid to rural African-American schools in the South. The Jeanes Fund soon developed a model of funding a supervisor for black schools who met any needs both the teachers and the students, as part of a wider community, might have. These were called “Jeanes Teachers” or “Jeanes Supervisors” but in a sense they were more like early Peace Corps volunteers than school teachers. They did community beautification, food production and distribution, public health and sanitation work and teacher training. Their motto was that they always did “the next needed thing”.

Charlotte Watson Mitchell was a Jeanes Supervisor in Bossier Parish after many years as a teacher. As a Jeanes Teacher, Charlotte Mitchell not only affected the educational life of the Parish’s Black community, but home life as well. From July 1, 1932 to February 28, 1933, she made 75 visits to schools, 209 visits with teachers and 60 visits to homes, as reported to the State Agent for Jeanes Teachers. She also assisted Lettie Van Landingham, Bossier Parish Home Demonstration Agent, by leading the Colored Home Demonstration Clubs in the Parish. A Home Demonstration Agent often taught local women homemaking techniques through organized Home Demonstration clubs. According to an April 14, 1932 article in the Plain Dealing Progress, Bossier Parish was one of only a few parishes that had an active Home Demonstration program for African-American women. In 1931 members of these clubs filled 6,000 tin cans of food at canning centers in four of the Parish’s African-American schools, with many of the cans going to the Red Cross to distribute to the hungry.

Jeanes Teachers made significant contributions to community life in Bossier Parish; however, the Jeanes program ended in the 1960’s with school integration. If you know any additional information about Charlotte Mitchell, Carrie Martin (the first Jeanes teacher in Bossier Parish) or any of the other Jeanes Teachers* in Bossier Parish, please contact the Historical Center.

*Including Crecy Ann Hudson Evans, Ella Mae Booker Wiley, Inez Patty, and Gussie Mae Hudson

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