Excerpts taken from the books; “All This and Tomorrow Too” written by T.M. Stinnett and Clara B. Kennan, and “History of the Arkansas Teachers Association”, written by Thomas E. Patterson. For more details on AEA and ATA’s history, please review both books.
The Arkansas Education Association made a small but professional beginning. It was organized under the name State Teachers Association (STA) in Little Rock on July 2, 1869 during Reconstruction Days. Its organizer and first president was Dr. Thomas Smith, who was Arkansas’ first state superintendent of public instruction, an officer who was later to be called commissioner of education.
From 1869-1879, the Association had weathered political reconstruction and the Brooks-Baxter War; it had managed to continue despite the adverse public sentiment which it and the public schools had both inherited from circumstances related to those two events. It had elected the first woman president of the Arkansas STA, and it was determined later, she was the first woman to serve as president of any STA in any state of the Union.
Probably nothing the Legislature did in 1873 was to color the Association’s June meeting more than announcing the winners of the November election. William Baxter had won the election for governor and J.C. Corbin had defeated Thomas Smith for state superintendent of public instruction. There was human drama at the Opera House at the Association’s June meeting. The characters of its two-man cast were Major Parham, the son of a Mississippi cotton planter whose father had owned and worked hundred of Negro slaves, and Superintendent Corbin, a Negro, intelligent and educated man, the son of free Ohio parents. J. C. Corbin was the first and only person of his race ever to serve as chief school officer in Arkansas and to date he remains one of only two Negroes ever to hold such a post in any state in the United States. Not as racial enemies but as parallel workers for the cause of education in Arkansas, these two men, Parham and Corbin, each of whom was then attending the Association for the first time, were to go down in history as educational leaders in the state.
The Association adopted a new constitution which re-styled the organization’s name making it officially the Arkansas State Teachers’ Association.
From 1879-1889 the public sentiment had turned in favor of the cause of public schools and to those who supported them.
From 1889-1899 there were signs of change. The STA convened for its thirtieth annual meeting. The Spanish-American War was going on. Signs of national patriotism were noticed.
From 1899-1909 the Association adopted a new constitution, under which the STA did, for the first time in its history, limit its membership to white persons only. The Negroes, about that time, had begun the process of organizing the Arkansas Colored Teachers Association. This was a history making time for the Association and for education in Arkansas.
The Arkansas Teachers Association had its origins in 1898 in an organization formed at Pine Bluff by less than a dozen teachers of black children in Arkansas, led by J.C. Corbin and including R.C. Childress. To distinguish themselves from the white teachers association, they adopted the name State Teachers Association of Arkansas. J.C. Corbin was a member of the National Education Association and served as the first president of ATA from 1898-1904. The ATA’s purpose and primary concern was to foster better conditions for the education of black youth, and better health and educational welfare for black people in general.
From 1909-1919 there was an expansion of Influence. It was said STA played a considerable part in bringing about the educational accomplishments in Arkansas and that the Association itself had been an important factor in the advancement of the educational interests of the state. With some of the new constitutions there had come slight changes in the organization’s name. 1869-1880 the name was State Teachers’ Association; 1880-1899, it was the Arkansas State Teachers’ Association; 1899-1912, its official name was the Arkansas Teachers’ Association; and 1912-1918, it was again the Arkansas State Teachers’ Association. At the 50th Anniversary meeting in 1919, there would be submitted for adoption a resolution to provide for the writing of a new constitution creating a representative council and changing the organization’s name to the more comprehensive one of the Arkansas Education Association.
From 1920-1929 there was a massive movement toward the creation of a real state-wide system of public education in Arkansas.
The period of 1930-1939 became known as the Decade of Depression and Retrogression. AEA and the State Department of Education approached the 1931 legislative session with high hopes. Repercussions of the worsening depression reached its zenith in the 1933 General Assembly by the legislation passed which was devastating in its negative effects upon the state school system.
For ATA, the decade saw a growing awareness of the problems evident in black education as evidenced by the first National Conference on Fundamental Problems in the Education of Negroes, held in Washington, D.C. in 1934.
The period of 1940-1949 was to become the Decade of War and Standing Still. The devastating inroads of the nation’s worst and longest depression seemed to be behind Arkansas schools. Extremely significant school legislation such as the teacher retirement act and the teachers’ salary law had crowned the efforts of the AEA. Perhaps the most significant was the shift of aggressive leadership from the State Department of Education to the AEA. December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor and the nation immediately geared all its manpower and resources to the winning of World War II, to the neglect of education. After the war ended, a state-wide teacher recruitment campaign was launched to re-man the depleted classrooms.
With the American Teachers Association, the national organization of black teachers behind them, ATA with R.C. Caesar as president for 1940-1942, set out to work on the problems facing Arkansas educators – equal length of school term, equal salaries for teachers with equal qualifications, equal provisions for black children and equal distribution of funds expended for transportation for children to school centers.
In 1950-1959 there were high hopes arising from the prospect of peace and a booming economy, for the greatest progress toward adequate education for all in the history of the AEA. As a symbol of the aggressive optimism of the AEA for the decade ahead, was a picture of the architects rendering of the AEA headquarters building to be dedicated on March 27, 1952. Another symbolic event began with the second woman president, Ocie Bivins. The strong symbolic nuance here is that at long last the AEA had become a unified organization, truly representative of all interests in teaching in the state.
For ATA, the struggles of equalization continued. During John White Presidency (1946-1950) the first discussions of the merger of the ATA with the white AEA began. White did not hesitate to point out inequalities in salaries, buildings, and education in general. During the 1950s the ATA strove to build on earlier successes and to achieve full equalization of salaries for black teachers; equalization of educational facilities and materials; and, based on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, integration of the schools. Throughout this time many efforts were begun to bring about a fair and equitable merger with the AEA.
The period of 1960-1969 became the Decade of Fulfillment. This decade witnessed the greatest revolution in education in the history of the United States. Such a surging tide of change could not but have tremendous impacts upon Arkansas schools. The key problem was the deprived child of all races. In some measure, the thrust for integration of schools in the South and in rural areas elsewhere was to present a pattern of problems. Major legislation for schools was passed in this decade. AEA and ATA submitted a charter and bylaws for a unified association. The development of unified school systems requires unified professional organizations. The proposed merger was to take effect July 1, 1969.
On the morning of July 1, delegates from the former ATA and the former AEA met in joint session to bind their professional union. The strength of the teaching profession in Arkansas was now united. The old ATA and the old AEA were gone and the historically significant merger took place.
Excerpts taken from the books; “All This and Tomorrow Too” written by T.M. Stinnett and Clara B. Kennan and “History of the Arkansas Teachers Association”, written by Thomas E. Patterson. For more details on AEA and ATA’s history, please read both books.