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Highlander: No Ordinary School 1932--1962

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 328
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    Book Description:

    and racial justice during a critical era in southern and Appalachian history. This volume is the first comprehensive examination of that extraordinary -- and often controversial -- institution.

    Founded in 1932 by Myles Horton and Don West near Monteagle, Tennessee, this adult education center was both a vital resource for southern radicals and a catalyst for several major movements for social change. During its thirty-year history it served as a community folk school, as a training center for southern labor and Farmers' Union members, and as a meeting place for black and white civil rights activists. As a result of the civil rights involvement, the state of Tennessee revoked the charter of the original institution in 1962.

    At the heart of Horton's philosophy and the Highlander program was a belief in the power of education to effect profound changes in society. By working with the knowledge the poor of Appalachia and the South had gained from their experiences, Horton and his staff expected to enable them to take control of their own lives and to solve their own problems.

    John M. Glen's authoritative study is more than the story of a singular school in Tennessee. It is a biography of Myles Horton, co-founder and long-time educational director of the school, whose social theories shaped its character. It is an analysis of the application of a particular idea of adult education to the problems of the South and of Appalachia. And it affords valuable insights into the history of the southern labor and the civil rights movements and of the individuals and institutions involved in them over the past five decades.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6325-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    The name Highlander Folk School has rarely evoked a neutral response, even among southerners who have heard of it only vaguely. Several years ago a friend and I were talking with a college freshman from Sewanee, Tennessee, located about nine miles from the school’s original site near Monteagle. Too young to remember the time when Highlander operated so close to his home, the student seemed puzzled as I recounted its history until I mentioned that the school had come under attack for its interracial activities. Suddenly he brightened. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “you mean that Communist training school!”

    Other southerners have...

  5. 1 The Establishment of Highlander 1927-1932
    (pp. 6-20)

    In large part, the Highlander Folk School was the product of a personal and intellectual odyssey by its cofounder, Myles Falls Horton. During the summer of 1927, while conducting a vacation Bible school in the small Cumberland Plateau town of Ozone, Tennessee, Horton discovered that bringing local adults together to discuss their common concerns and to find their own solutions was a far more effective way to address community problems than a conventional education program. He spent the next five years trying to translate his discovery in Ozone into an educational approach that would meet the needs of the people...

  6. 2 Early Struggles, 1932-1937
    (pp. 21-46)

    The most striking characteristic of the Highlander Folk School’s work between 1932 and 1937 was the contrast between its ambitious objectives and its limited achievements. The school’s letterhead summarized its two major goals. First, Highlander sought “to educate rural and industrial leaders for a new social order.” No one at HFS ever fully articulated the nature of this new order. But in November 1932 Myles Horton and Don West anticipated that the growth of the coal and textile industries in the South would require the training of local union leaders who would contribute to the rise of a broad-based labor...

  7. 3 Building and Defending a Program, 1937-1941
    (pp. 47-69)

    As Highlander’s 1937 winter residence term opened on January 6, staff members stepped up their efforts to establish a sound workers’ education program in anticipation of a major CIO organizing campaign in the South. The eleven students enrolled in the six-week session took classes on labor economics, labor history, public speaking and parliamentary procedure, union tactics, and dramatics. They produced a play and a student newspaper, attended conferences and union meetings, and assisted strikers in Laager, Sherwood, and Cleveland, Tennessee. Meanwhile, HFS leaders sought to double the school’s financial support for 1937 by joining Commonwealth College in a campaign to...

  8. 4 Extension Work, 1937-1947
    (pp. 70-86)

    When CIO leaders announced the formation of the Textile Workers Organizing Committee in March 1937, Highlander staff members leaped at the chance to become part of what James Dombrowski called the “most important event in southern labor history.”¹ The potential effects of the TWOC drive to organize the southern textile industry were indeed enormous. A million people worked in the industry in 1937, about 450,000 in the South alone; a successful campaign by the CIO would create the largest union in America. It was also commonly accepted that the organization of the textile industry, the largest employer of southern wage...

  9. 5 The CIO Years, 1942-1947
    (pp. 87-106)

    Between 1942 and 1947 the American labor movement grew steadily in size and influence. Wartime labor shortages, legal support for the right to organize, and the energetic, if not always successful, prosecution of cases before the War Labor Board swelled union membership from approximately 10.5 million in 1941 to about 15.4 million at the end of 1947. Accompanying this picture of progress, however, were signs that the labor movement was headed toward troubled times. Less than one-fourth of the AFL’s membership and well under 10 percent of the CIO’s membership lived in the South in 1947. Some state legislatures sought...

  10. 6 Transition Years, 1944-1953
    (pp. 107-128)

    The late 1940s and early 1950s were years of transition for the Highlander Folk School. As southerners began to adjust to the far-reaching economic and racial changes produced by World War II, Highlander’s leaders struggled to give overall purpose and direction to an expanded education program. The executive council’s decision in January 1948 to broaden contacts with labor, farmer, and nonlabor groups was both a reflection of the deteriorating relationship with the CIO and a reaffirmation of goals the teaching staff had pursued since 1932, when Myles Horton and Don West announced their intention to educate both rural and industrial...

  11. 7 From School Desegregation to Student Sit-Ins, 1953-1961
    (pp. 129-154)

    “We are at our best at Highlander when we are pioneering,” Myles Horton declared in 1953, and until 1961 the Tennessee school was in the forefront of the drive to end racial segregation in the South.¹ Highlander’s programs during the 1950s reflected the growing struggle for legal, political, and social equality by black Americans. Indeed, to a great extent the focus and direction of the staff’s work came to depend upon the civil rights movement. It furnished HFS teachers with powerful allies who could join them in confronting the racial prejudice that had frustrated their efforts to organize industrial workers...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. 8 The Citizenship Schools, 1953-1961
    (pp. 155-172)

    The same process of anticipation and reaction that marked Highlander’s residence program also characterized its extension program between 1953 and 1961. Between 1953 and 1956, staff members experimented with a project designed to train grass-roots leadership for communitywide reform efforts. Conceptually vague from the start, the program foundered in most cases. But the idea took hold on Johns Island, South Carolina, primarily because residents of the island were not so much concerned with something called community development as with a single essential problem: illiteracy as a barrier to voter registration. In response, Highlander began sponsoring Citizenship Schools on the island...

  14. 9 Highlander under Attack, 1953-1962
    (pp. 173-209)

    As the role of the Highlander Folk School in the civil rights movement expanded, the school became the target of a series of attacks spearheaded by southern segregationists. Fearful of the Communist threat to the United States, and furious over the Supreme Court’sBrowndecision, opponents once again began to denounce the school as a Communist training center bent on fomenting racial strife and disrupting established values and institutions in the South. From 1954 until the closing of the folk school in 1961, staff members had virtually no rest from investigations, explosive publicity, and threats against them and their allies....

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 210-223)

    The Highlander Research and Education Center continued to serve the poor and powerless of the South in the two decades following its incorporation in 1961. Yet staff members were often frustrated by a sense that their work lacked the focus and clarity of the Highlander Folk School’s programs. Highlander’s history became as much a burden as a standard of effectiveness. The center remained an important part of the civil rights movement during most of the 1960s, well after its leaders had concluded that it was no longer essential to the movement. Inspired by their participation in the Poor People’s Campaign...

  16. APPENDIX Highlander Folk School: Statement of Purpose, Program, and Policy
    (pp. 224-225)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 226-286)
  18. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 287-300)
  19. Index
    (pp. 301-309)