General Education Board (1901–1964) Essay

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The General Education Board (GEB) was a philanthropy started by John D. Rockefeller and a small cadre of friends, in large part to remedy the deplorable state of education for southern rural African Americans. The GEB, over its more than six decades of life, supported a wide variety of educational programs and research, both in the United States and abroad. Abraham Flexnor’s many educational surveys represent the most famous of these efforts. However, the board’s support of African American education, despite representing a small percentage of its overall allocations throughout its history, remains remarkable. Arguably, despite its support of segregation, no other organization, save the NAACP and its success with Brown v. Board of Education, has done more to improve African American schooling.

The GEB’s support of Black schooling started slowly. Indeed, in concert with the Southern Education Board, an older group that it backed financially for a number of years, the GEB espoused a curious ideology that direct aid to White schools was the best course to improve Black education. The GEB, in its early years, funded the work of rural school supervisors and professors of secondary education, all with a focus on White children and youth. However, its 1910 placement of Jackson Davis as the first State Agent of Negro Education, in Virginia’s state department of education, signaled a policy turn toward direct assistance of Black schooling. GEB’s efforts over the next half-century would radically alter the educational landscape for Southern African Americans.

GEB support and supervision of the State Agents of Negro Education, fundamentally assistant state superintendents, was foundational to all of its actions in support of Black schooling. To be sure, GEB’s monetary support for Southern African American education remained significant throughout its life. However, using its supported State Agents as a regional network of educational policy actors, the GEB impressively reworked the Southern public school systems to include African Americans. Indeed, the GEB significantly moved away from its earlier focus on industrial education; it formulated and implemented policies that brought robust academic work to Black schools.

Beginning in the early 1940s, the GEB began to wind down its philanthropic efforts. Over the next two decades, it divested its funds and organizational obligations to other groups, principally the Southern Education Foundation. The GEB ceased operations in 1964.


  1. Anderson, E., & Moss, A. A., Jr. (1999). Dangerous donations: Northern philanthropy and Southern Black education, 1902–1930. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
  2. Davis, M. D. (2005). Behind-the-scenes ally: The GEB, Southern Black high schools, and inter-war curriculum reform. In Curriculum history 2004. College Station, TX: Society for the Study of Curriculum History.
  3. Fosdick, R. F. (1962). Adventure in giving. New York: Harper & Row.
  4. Watkins, W. H. (2001). The White architects of Black education: Ideology and power in America, 1865–1954. New York: Teachers College Press.

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