Jackson Davis was a long-time official with the General Education Board (GEB), a Rockefeller-funded philanthropy mainly remembered for its work with Southern Black schooling. Over his more than thirty years with the GEB, Davis rose to the post of vice president and toiled as an advocate for improved schooling for African American children and youth.
After graduating from college in 1902, he spent the next eight years leading various school and youth organizations. During his Henrico County, Virginia, public schools superintendency (1905–1909), he came to the notice of the GEB and, as well, recruited the first Jeanes Teacher. In 1910, Davis became the initial GEB-funded Director of Negro Education, serving in the Virginia State Department of Education.
Davis’s success with Virginia’s schools for African Americans and his work in recruiting and training additional directors for other states led to his appointment in 1915 as the GEB’s general field agent.
Assuming general guidance of the GEB’s Southern Program, Davis began a refashioning of the organization’s work with Black schools. Principally, under his leadership, GEB policies turned away from strict allegiance to industrial schooling. Among other efforts, Davis directed the establishment of a regularized system for the accreditation of Black high schools and reinvigorated the Southern state departments of education as official allies to Black schools. These efforts, mainly hidden from general public notice, garnered him much less notice than other contemporary progressive Whites such as Edwin Embree and Will Alexander. He died, still faithfully serving the GEB, in 1947.
- Davis, M. D. (2004). “Attuned to the art of the possible”: The GEB’s Jackson Davis. American Educational History Journal, 2, 124–128.
- Jackson Davis and the lost world of Jim Crow education. (2000). Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library, Special Collections Department.
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