Wolfe City Sun, September 13, 1940
Farmers Improvement School Helpful In Training Negro Youth For Leadership In Rural Life; R. L. Smith Again At Helm
Trustees Urged To Give School To State To Establish Agricultural School For Negroes; Only One Such State Supported Institution; Need For Another Very Evident In Training Negro Youth.
The state of Texas has two great institutions and fifteen or more smaller ones for the education of white students above the high school grades and only has one for Negroes, the Prairie View College, near Hempstead, which is forty miles northwest of Houston. R. L. Smith, President of the Farmers Improvement School, which is located between Wolfe City and Ladonia, has induced the trustees of this school to give the plant to the State of Texas to establish such a school for Negroes. It is evident that, as well educated as the white citizens of Texas are their children require besides the great schools at Austin and College Station, fifteen others of such a grade as the institution at Lubbock, Commerce and at other points, devoted to collegiate specialized training, the Negro citizens need at least one more and no better place could be found for it than North Texas which has nothing of this kind either state or denominational for the race.
The need for a school devoted to the training of Negro teachers and others in agriculture and allied industries is based on
the fact that the Negro is yet to a great extent engaged in agricultural pursuits, that if the average Negro is not he should be, as it is the most reasonable avenue to self support, for a few well tilled acres will sustain an average family.
Present conditions are bound to change and the question of self-support will have to be solved by the Negro and the nation. This type of education is the easiest way out because it combines a feasible way of living with no destructive competition. Prof. Smith believes that is would even pay the government to settle thousands of indigent Negroes on small farm holdings and train them to make a few acres sustain them and their families.
The states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia have seen the need of such a school as the Farmers Improvement School would be if taken over by the state and established especially for the training of Negro school teachers.
A few miles northeast of Wolfe City lies the plant of this useful and highly respected institution, its founder is still alive though the years of service devoted to an ideal have left their mark upon him.
As one looks at the beautiful buildings, four in number, he might well ask why they are away from the city. This brings us to the purpose of the founder. When a younger man, President R. L. Smith desired to do something for his race that would of lasting benefit and since there was no institution in North Texas higher than elementary schools except at Texarkana and Paris, he and his good wife, now deceased, decided to establish a school for Negro farmer children of high school grade. This was in 1906. At that time, Prof. Smith was Office Deputy United States Marshall under Colonel A. J. Houston, the son of General Sam Houston. His appointment to so important an office came through President Theodore Roosevelt .
The location was determined largely by the character of the leading Negroes of the community including such representative farmers as Dennis Pollard, Gulford and Henry Dickerson, Barney Simmons, Brandon Pruitt, Green, James I. Gilmore, Al Crumby, Albert Locke, Will Dickerson, and others. It would be difficult to select Negroes more thrifty, reliable and progressive than those named. In addition to the character and reliability of the Negro leaders of the community there was the interest and appreciation of the school by the white citizens of both towns so much so that two of the trustees of the institution were white citizens, Mr. Myrick of Wolfe City and Dr. Nelson of Ladonia. The land consisting at that time of only twenty-five acres, was bought from Barney Simmons, a progressive community leader.
Mrs. R. L. Smith undertook to raise the money for the first building and after a tour which took her from Paris to the Gulf, at the meeting of the Farmers Improvement Society at Navasota, in 1906, seventeen hundred dollars was laid on the table. The first building cost, unsealed and lacking much of perfection, thirty-eight hundred dollars. It was at this stage that R. L. Smith came to the rescue with a donation of twenty-one hundred dollars which gave the institution its start free of debt which for the most part has been its business principle ever since. From this modest start the plant has grown until at present there are four beautiful buildings and more than sixty acres of land. Upon these acres boys are taught the fine art of ordinary farming and the girls are taught the art of conserving the bounties of nature that the good earth gives to man.
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Many thanks to the Texas Collection, Baylor University, for allowing us to copy the photos below.