Irreconcilable Priorities

Irreconcilable Priorities

Reviewed by Thomas V. O’Brien

Vol. 15, No. 1, 1993, pp. 25-27

Black Scholar: Horace Mann Bond, 1904-1972, by Wayne J. Urban (University of Georgia Press, 1992, xii, 266 pages, photographs).

Wayne J. Urban’s Black Scholar is a biography of Horace Mann Bond, who lived, worked, and wrote in both the South and the North during the reign of Jim Crow, and through the early years of its aftermath. Bond is portrayed by Urban as having two irreconcilable priorities: the desire to pursue a life of scholarship and a competing desire to be a university administrator. Although he achieved both of these goals in his lifetime, Urban argues that Bond’s greater strength was as a scholar. He asserts that Bond’s best work was his early research and writing, exemplified by his dissertation at the University of Chicago. In this early work, Bond showed deep insight into the problems of educational, political, and social injustices to blacks in the South.

Tragically, feels Urban, Bond never was able to devote his energies to serious scholarship after his first decade in academe. He “was never free to follow his inclinations and talent for historical scholarship.” Pointing to two of Bond’s later works while he was President of Lincoln University, his research for the NAACP in the Brown v. Board of Education case and his history of Lincoln University, Urban, himself an historian at Georgia State University, asserts that the quality was undermined by “the contemporary circumstances he found himself in.”

Urban, who writes well and has researched thoroughly, is judicious and fair in his treatment of Bond’s professional life as both scholar and college administrator. He has done a marvelous job making sense of the Horace Mann Bond papers, housed at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He has also carefully read and analyzed virtually every publication of Bond’s. Moreover, he interviewed many of the people who worked and lived with him over the years, including his widow, Mrs. Julia Washington Bond. A shortcoming of the book (and one that Urban admits up front) is its failure to reveal much detail about personal life or personality. Although the reader learns much about what made Bond angry (especially in the last five chapters), one never gets a genuine understanding of what was going on in this man’s mind, what motivated him, and what he relied on when making decisions.

In chapter one, Urban points out that Bond was named after Horace Mann, the great nineteenth century common school crusader, not because of his reputation as an educator but because of his anti-slavery activities. Urban then sketches a brief, lucid picture of the young Bond, a small, bookish boy who was more content reading at home than cavorting in the streets with his older brothers. His mother’s sister, Aunt Mamie, had a profound influence on the youngster early in his life. She, a physician who had moved to Kentucky to practice medicine and live with the Bonds, devoted her free time to schooling young Bond in medicine, history, and contemporary novels. He also read extensively from the family library, which included several anti-slavery and abolitionist works, and W.E.B. DuBois’s magazine, Crisis.

But it was his father, James Bond, a Congregationalist minister who had fought against his illiteracy as a young

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man and eventually graduated from two institutes of higher education, who had the greatest influence. James placed a premium on education and a liberal brand of moral Puritanism. This combination, which allowed Horace to be comfortable with the piety of many blacks “without being overcome with anti-intellectualism and fervid fundamentalism,” would serve him well in his career.

Urban then skillfully chronicles Bond’s scholarly ascent, first to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (where he was accepted at age fourteen) and then to the University of Chicago, where he studied education. Financing his schooling was a problem, but with advice and help from his father, Bond found innovative ways to make ends meets and earn his degrees. After his baccalaureate from Lincoln in 1923, he jumped between graduate school in Chicago and faculties at colleges in Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, and a deanship at Dillard University. He did not receive his doctorate until 1936. It was during these twelve years that Bond matured as an astute observer and critic of an unjust society and as a scholar of black education.

Whether he was researching and writing at Chicago, publishing in DuBois’s Crisis or in Charles Johnson’s Opportunity, or conducting research for the Rosenwald Fund (which he joined in 1929), Bond was in his element. His work with the Rosenwald Fund led to several other publications, including what Urban considers to be his “greatest contribution to scholarship,” his dissertation, published in 1939 under the title Negro Education in Alabama: A Study in Cotton and Steel. Urban portrays Bond as a bright, gifted, young scholar, on track to become a serious academic.

The same year Cotton and Steel was published, and at the young age of thirty-five, Bond accepted the presidency of Fort Valley State College in rural middle Georgia. At forty, he left Fort Valley to become the first black president of Lincoln University, his alma mater. It was during this time that be drifted away from “academic accomplishments” and toward becoming a “committed professional administrator who was also gaining a powerful voice in the segregated world of black education.” He began making “peace with the diverse nonscholarly tasks a president is expected to perform… the art of political manipulation, public relations, and bureaucratic maneuvering.” Urban argues, and laments, that Bond’s decision to commit himself to administration sapped his scholarly energy and compromised his ultimate achievements.

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Urban laments that Bond’s serious research was victimized by his time and place in history.

His initial foray into administration, however, appeared auspicious. For six years at Fort Valley he functioned successfully as an administrator, transforming that institution from little more than a junior college to a full-fledged four-year college. While there, be secured notable increases in state funding and, with additional help from the Rosenwald Fund and the General Education Board, also strengthened the faculty, built up the library, and improved the teacher training program.

While Lincoln was a greater professional opportunity for Bond, and provided possibilities of a better life for his family, it turned out to be an administrative nightmare. His tenure was marred by interpersonal struggles and political battles with faculty members and alumni. Urban believes that Bond reduced and misattributed many of his conflicts with white trustees and faculty to issues of race, when in fact they were largely economic issues. “Bond allowed his very real concern about racial dynamics among faculty and between town and gown to obscure larger economic realities.” There were also conflicts with black faculty and alumni.

During his years at Lincoln, Bond made ten or more trips to Africa. There he devoted himself to improving education and strengthening ties between African schools and Lincoln. While his trips had few “tangible results,” argues Urban, they met his “own need for discovering the antecedents of his people” and took “him away from the turmoil at Lincoln.”

The issue that would lead to Bond’s resignation from his position at Lincoln involved a plan to alter the historical mission of Lincoln University to make it a more interracial institution. While Bond had always supported keeping the doors open to all types of students, he would not enthusiastically support the trustees’ 1953 plan to recruit white students. Bond, disagreeing with Thurgood Marshall, a Lincoln alumnus and at the time chief counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, opined that Lincoln’s interracial character was evident in its board and in its faculty, and that it should not abandon its raison d’etre: educating black men. He criticized student tokenism elsewhere and argued that those white schools then opening their doors to blacks were far behind what was happening interracially at Lincoln. Given that the decision was imminent, Bond’s stance was perceived as “politically incorrect” and served as a final straw. Bond was forced to resign in 1957.

After leaving, be accepted a one-year lectureship at Harvard University and then appointment as dean of the School of Education at Atlanta University. There he was able also to return to scholarly pursuits, though he had lost many valuable years of serious scholarship. In Atlanta, he settled into realizing the fruits of his personal life. Urban describes this period as a fulfilling one for Bond. His children℄Jane, James, and Julian—, one can suppose, took his efforts, principles, and ideals into the climate of social activism of the 1960s and 1970s, to which they contributed significantly. Professor Urban’s scholarship is impeccable, and his biography of a man who sacrificed scholarship for administration creates a vivid portrait of a brilliant black man, and his pursuit of his principles in twentieth century America.

Thomas V. O’Brien is an Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations at Millersville State University, Millersville, Pennsylvania.