Horace Mann Bond (1904-1972) was an important figure in African American education during the 1930s and 1940s working to end segregation while still improving the education of African American students.
An imposing figure in a family that produced several important scholars and civil rights leaders, Horace Mann Bond had a career that exemplifies the dilemma of the black educator in the segregated South during the 1930s and 1940s: despising segregation and silently struggling to abolish it, while still helping to improve education for African Americans within its confines. Sociologist, college president, and philanthropic agent, Horace Mann Bond resolved this dilemma with intelligence and diplomacy. His work, and that of other educators like him, set into motion the historic forces that found expression in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Grandson of slaves, Bond was the child of an extraordinary couple. His mother was a schoolteacher, his father a minister. Both excelled in the network of religious and educational institutions established in the South after the Civil War. Bond was an academic prodigy, graduating from high school at the age of fourteen. He attended Lincoln University, a black college in southeastern Pennsylvania. Lincoln placed a premium on W. E. B. Du Bois's notion that racial improvement in the United States would be accomplished by a "talented tenth" of African Americans. Bond quickly proved himself to be such a leader, graduating with honors in 1923. While taking graduate courses at Pennsylvania State College, Bond earned grades higher than those of his white classmates and returned to Lincoln in 1923 as an instructor. Bond then suffered the only setback to his success: he was dismissed from the college for tolerating a gambling ring in a dormitory he was supervising.
Despite his embarrassment at Lincoln, Bond had a reputation as a fine scholar, and he spent much of the next fifteen years alternating between various jobs as an administrator of African American schools and graduate work in sociology at the University of Chicago, from which he received his doctorate in 1936. Bond's administrative work at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma, and at Alabama State Normal School in Montgomery taught him valuable lessons in the difficulties of education in the segregated South. To keep the white state legislature funding Langston, for example, Langston faculty had to "fool" visiting legislators into thinking the school taught only domestic sciences and "honest labor and toil," giving visiting legislators sumptuous meals of fried chicken and mounting theatrical displays of teachers picking peas. After the whites left, satisfied that the blacks of Oklahoma were receiving education sufficient for their "place," Langston got back to teaching. Throughout the 1930s Bond was engaged in a similarly difficult and often frustrating relationship with the Rosenwald Fund, a white philanthropy that donated large sums toward black education. The Rosenwald funding was instrumental in Bond's pursuit of his doctorate, as well as in securing Bond's major academic appointments to Fisk University in 1928 and to Dillard University in New Orleans in 1935. Nonetheless, the Rosenwald Fund, enamored of Booker T. Washington's notion that African American improvement was best pursued through industrial and agricultural labor, was often conservative and rarely challenged the segregated status quo in the South. That perspective privately annoyed Bond; during the Depression, however, no responsible educator could antagonize a steady source of funding. Believing in black academic excellence, Bond confronted white resistance to equality as a scholar, attacking one of the cornerstones of segregation: the belief that intelligence testing had "proved" the intellectual inferiority of African Americans.
The U.S. Army had begun intelligence testing during World War I. In the 1920s various academics, such as Carl Brigham of Princeton, used the army data and other studies to argue that intelligence testing demonstrated the innate racial inferiority of African Americans. At Chicago, however, Bond had studied sociology in a department that had pioneered research in the impact of environment and society on individual personality. He had also supervised the creation of a statistical survey on the socioeconomic and educational condition of African Americans for the Tennessee Valley Authority. In a series of important articles, in a book titled The Education of the Negro in the American Social Order (1934), and in his dissertation, published as Negro Education in Alabama: A Study in Cotton and Steel (1939), Bond assailed intelligence testing for its cultural bias and ignorance of environmental factors in education. White academics argued that "bright" blacks moved North; Bond conducted empirical studies at Lincoln demonstrating no significant difference in innate intelligence between northern and southern African Americans. Many asserted that the decline of black schools was owing to African American indifference; Bond demonstrated that it resulted from poor financing by white-dominated school boards. Bond showed that exceptional black students were usually the products of exceptionally well-financed and well-administered black schools, rather than any genetic characteristic. Bond tied the poor educational performance of African Americans to their political disenfranchisement and economic exploitation. He revealed that in many counties where the majority or near majority of the population was African American, white school boards kept taxes low and financed good schools for white children by directing the bulk of black tax payments to white schools—even as black schools remained substandard. Black taxpayers, in other words, were financing education for their white neighbors. "The School," he wrote in his 1934 book, "has been the product and interpreter of the existing [economic] system, sustaining and being sustained by the social complex." With Du Bois he also inaugurated a revisionist history of southern Reconstruction, which—in contrast to the dominant "Dunning" school of southern history in his time—did not applaud the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in "redeeming" the South after the Civil War.
Bond's scholarly work, although fairly radical for the time, was tempered by articles and speeches in which he lauded the work of "Southern white gentlemen" and racial moderates. He also did not recommend the abolition of the segregated school system but instead advocated financing it on a truly equal basis. Such gestures were necessary for the continued functioning of any southern educator committed to improving black education in the Jim Crow South. After 1939 Bond was foremost among such educators. That year he accepted the presidency of Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia, a position he held until 1945, when he assumed the presidency of his alma mater, Lincoln. The first black president in the history of Lincoln, Bond held the office until 1957. He used his position to pursue several concerns: pan-Africanism and the development of African studies in American universities (following a trip to Africa in 1949), desegregation in Pennsylvania schools, assistance to the NAACP legal team that argued the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) suit before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the physical expansion of Lincoln and the improvement of its courses. He increased the number of black faculty members at Lincoln and brought to campus its first Jewish professor. He aroused opposition to his presidency by his activism and in 1957 resigned his office owing to the increased combativeness of the board of trustees. He then became dean of the School of Education at Atlanta University, remaining there until his retirement in 1971. During that time he renewed his criticisms of intelligence testing and standardized achievement tests following a flurry of new activity in those fields in the early 1960s, but increasingly his energy was focused on helping the civil rights activities and political career of his son, Julian Bond. Horace Mann Bond died in December 1972.
Wayne J. Urban, Black Scholar: Horace Mann Bond, 1904-1972 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992).
Roger M. Williams, The Bonds: An American Family (New York: Atheneum, 1972). □