Life at Yale: 1935-1937

Although M’timkulu did not leave any account of his immediate experience of Yale University, it is important to recognize that he was among the few blacks who breached these walls of white privilege. The only other South African students referred to by M’timkulu, who were in New Haven at the same time, were John Steytler, a Dutch Reformed Missionary from Nyasaland, Oscar Emanuelson from the Native Education Department in Natal and Milner L. Kabane, head of the Practising School at Lovedale.’4

It has been possible to gain some sense of M’timkulu’s experience from a letter of advice from Z.K. Matthews to Alexander Kerr, the principal of Fort Hare, regarding the stay of Milner Kabane in 1934. From other evidence we know that M’timkulu had received a “grant-in-aid” from the Carnegie Corp, of $1000,00, the same amount that was due to Kabane, and Matthews notes that this is sufficient to the needs since tuition was $300,00 per year and “University room rent” $8,00 a week (which he recommended rather than private boarding, as it gave easy access to “the facilities such as lectures, concerts etc. of which there are so many here at Yale”). Matthews was also most complementary about his fellow students and the support of the academic staff.” M’timkulu played for the first soccer team at Yale, admitting humorously to an interviewer many years later that “of course the Americans are not very good at soccer.””

The courses successfully completed by M’timkulu in the Department of Race Relations between September 1935 and February 1937 included the following:

  • • The Introduction of Western Civilization to Non-Westem People
  • • The Education of Non-Westem People
  • • Social Anthropology'
  • • Ethnology
  • • General Seminar in Education
  • • High School and College Education’7

Field trips, fieldwork and Christian work

A key aspect of Lorain’s Carnegie program at Yale was the Special Grant allocated for student field trips to provide for visits to black educational institutions in the United States. These trips, according to M’timkulu, were part of Lorain’s “elitist idea” to get the groups to bind and form attachments and linkages that would prepare them for their roles in their own societies. The exposure to the experience of Southern blacks, in the modern urban context of Washington and Atlanta, and remote rural contexts such as those found in Penn Island or Virginia, would demonstrate areas of progress to the group and show them the diversity of responses in the field of education to the challenges of the context in which they lived. The visits included one-teacher rural primary schools and the most advanced higher education institutions such as Howard and Fisk Universities and Tuskegee Institution, where they observed radically different models of education for black Americans. All this M’timkulu told me, he found to be “a very useful experience.” He also saw the members of the black elite that he encountered in very positive terms, and was impressed by their leadership and commitment to community change for blacks, an experience, he said, that was to inspire him throughout his life. He remarked that “Lorain was just showing this to us as an example of what had been done, not as a necessary solution to all black educational problems.”’8

In a remarkable series of three articles, published in the GATA journal The Teachers Vision,59 M’timkulu gives his readers impressions of a visit to the black educational institutions in the “Deep South” in March/April 1936. This represents one of the few examples we have of a highly perceptive black South

African who is aware of the ambiguities, contradictions and confusions which characterized debates on education and race relations in that troubled area of the United States in the post-Depression era.60 The goal of these tours has often subsequently been interpreted as being to advertise the merits of the Tuskegee model of adapted educational reform and racial conflict avoidance that had been central to the Phelps-Stokes educational philosophy in the South, and in Colonial African, which Thomas Jesse Jones and Loram had been advocating since the early 1920s.

The group61 first visited Teachers College in New York and was briefed by Professor Mabel Carney62 and Nina Du Bois6’ on the situation regarding education in the South at that time. He succinctly identifies the flaw in Mabel Carney’s argument in favor of a curriculum adapted to the needs of the Negro, specifically the rural Negro, in order to “create a sense of pride and individuality to help the Negro shed his inferiority complex” by asking how, if this were to be achieved, it would “avoid the Negro feeling that he has been singled out once more.”64

In summarizing this meeting, M’timkulu argues that the schools have to search to build the foundations of racial peace and that “when we all come to judge our fellows as individual men and not as representatives of groups, we shall then be on the highway toward the elimination of race prejudice.” On the rest of the tour he battles with how to understand the implications of that message in the messy educational politics of the South, with the choice between building a separate/segregated educational sector for blacks and facing the political impossibilities of integrated education. In higher education he considers the third possibility of blacks being granted subsidies to study in the North. At all times he attempts to compare what he saw in the South to his South African experience. His key observation, and one clearly showing his awareness of the complexities of the education system for blacks in the South, is that “even the casual observer in the South cannot help noticing how lavishly the Southern states spend their money in fine and commodious buildings for their Negro colleges” while noting the contrast with the “obviously starved condition of Negro elementary education in the South.”65

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