Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry
Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry
Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry

Born on June 5, 1825, in Lincoln County, Georgia, Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry’s early life was typical of most elite white Southern men of his generation. [1] His father, William Curry, was a merchant slaveholder and member of the state legislature who, like most of his peers, raised his son as the presumptive heir of his slave-dependent estate. J.L.M. Curry graduated from Franklin College (later the University of Georgia) in 1843 and graduated from the Law School at Harvard in 1845. He then returned to Alabama and was admitted to the Talladega County Bar the next year. By 1847 he began serving in the Alabama House of Representatives and in 1857 he was elected to represent Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. As an elected official, Curry delivered numerous speeches that unequivocally supported slavery, argued for slavery’s salutary effects on African Americans, asserted slavery’s central importance to the national economy, condemned attempts to bar the spread of slavery, and predicted that abolition would result in the decline of character and productivity of southern Blacks. [2] Tax records report that through this season Curry owned a plantation of 550 acres, which in 1857 was worked by 25 enslaved people and by 40 people in 1863. [3] After secession, he was elected to the First Confederate Congress and was the Speaker pro tempore of the Confederate House of Representatives in 1863. By 1864, he was a lead author and signatory of an address from the Congress of the Confederate States of America. The address lays bare their view that the central reason for the war was to destroy the institution of slavery and that the recent Emancipation Proclamation was an illegal maneuver that would soon be denounced at home and abroad. [4] Up through the Civil War, Curry was not only a slaveholder himself, but an ardent defender of slavery, and a lead orator and legislator on the subject to Confederate audiences.

After the Civil War, Curry adapted to the new reality of the post-war South and spent fifteen years serving as president of the Alabama State Baptist Convention and then of Howard College (later Samford University) and finally joining the faculty of Richmond College (eventually University of Richmond). Through these years he was an ardent critic of Reconstruction and black political participation. [5]

In 1881, Curry became an agent of the Peabody Education Fund, which sought to stimulate the expansion of common schools across the South. [6] While in this post, he authored an address to the General Assembly of Alabama in which he advocated for universal but racially segregated public education. In this address, Curry argued that by the very nature of being made in God’s image the African American child “has the same indefeasible right to the unfolding of his powers, the exertion of his faculties,” as does the white child. He then expanded that argument by framing the education of African Americans through the lens of white benefit: reduced crime, the improved wellbeing of whites, and the danger of an uneducated voting bloc. [7] In 1890 he moved his efforts entirely to the education of African Americans by joining the education committee of the John F. Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen. Under Curry’s leadership the Slater Fund focused its resources on a small number of institutions that emphasized industrial schooling, a blend of manual training and moral improvement at such institutions as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) and Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University). He was an advocate for separate and unequal universal education. In 1894, he delivered a keynote entitled “Education of the Negroes since 1860,” in which he continued advocacy for public funding for the education of African Americans and for their right to an education. Yet, he clearly viewed the white race as superior and argued that the management of all education was the responsibility of whites. [8] He expressed the same sentiment in a slightly later speech: “The white people are to be the leaders, to take the initiative, to have the directive control in all matters pertaining to civilization and the highest interests of our beloved land. History demonstrates that the Caucasian will rule.” [9] In 1901, Curry served on a committee that outlined the establishment of what became the Southern Education Board. He subsequently helped to establish the General Education Board with the support of John D. Rockefeller.

Prior to Mr. Edwin Alderman’s installment as the first President of the University on April 13, 1905, Mr. Frederick Gates wrote a letter to Mr. Alderman acknowledging Mr. John D. Rockfeller’s gift to establish the Curry Memorial School.

Born into a slaveholding society, Curry was an ardent public defender of slavery right through the Civil War. During Reconstruction he withdrew from public life, but his stance against Reconstruction and universal political enfranchisement were the consistent extension of his pre-war views. By the 1880s, he spent his time advocating for public support for African American education, although motivated by white Southern interests and not with the presumption of racial equality.

[1] An excellent brief biography of Curry is William Link, Dictionary of Virginia Biography, J.L.M. Curry (1825-1903), Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 23 Sept 2013. See also the chapter on Curry in Architects of Accommodation.

[2] Speech of J.L.M. Curry, of Alabama, on the election of speaker, and the progress of anti-slaveryism. Washington, Printed by L. Towers, 1859.

[3] Watkins, William Henry. The White architects of Black education: Ideology and power in America, 1865-1954. New York: Teachers College Press, 2001. (pages 161-178)

[4] J.L.M. Curry and others, “An Address of the Confederate Congress to the People of the Confederate States,” Richmond, 1864.

[5] Architects of Accommodation, 168-69.

[6] Normal School is a common nineteenth-century term for an institution that trained high school graduates to become teachers. These would become teacher training colleges. The phrase common school referred in the nineteenth century to what we would now call public schools. Industrial schools were those focused on training students towards vocations and trades.

[7] J.L.M. Curry, “Address to the General Assembly of Alabama,” February 6, 1885.

[8] J.L.M. Curry, “Education of the Negroes since 1860,”Trustees of the John F. Slater Fund, Occasional Papers, No. 3, Baltimore, 1894.

[9] J.L.M. Curry, “Keynote Address at the Conference for Education in the South.” Cited in Clinton Alison.

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