Radical Education in the Rural South

Radical Education in the Rural South

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Commonwealth College was the longest-lived and most notorious of the resident labor colleges that operated during the 1920s and 1930s. Founded in 1923 at NewLlano Cooperative Colony in Vernon Parish, Louisiana, the school was modeled on the self-maintenance characteristics of Florida's abortive prewar experiment in social education: Ruskin College. Disputes over priorities with NewLlano Colony forced the College to relocate to rural Polk County, Arkansas, in 1924 where it took up permanent residence in the dense qpiney woodsq at the foot of Rich Mountain. Commonwealth's early leaders were dedicated Debsian Socialists who were convinced that a different type of education for the new industrial class would result in a series of massive social changes that would transform American capitalism into thc utopian cooperative commonwealth of their dreams. The regional and national publicity that resulted from the allegations that the College was a Moscow-driven qred cell' became a self-fulfilling prophecy from the mid- to late 1930s. Commonwealth endured spectacular attacks by the American Legion in 1926, from a Communist qstudent strikeq in 1933, from investigations by the Arkansas General Assembly in 1935 and 1937, and through its association with the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union. By 1938 the school had exhausted the patience of the people it had been founded to educate -- the industrial workers. Finally, without any friends in the non-Communist left, Commonwealth attempted to become the southern campus of the New Theatre League, but strident local opposition brought a court action that forced the College to close in September 1940. William H. Cobb illuminates the history of theextraordinary group of students and staff of Commonwealth College and the rich intellectual life produced on the self-sustaining communal farm in the Arkansas forest. Although Cobb did not have access to Commonwealth College papers, which disappeared after being impounded by the county court, he reconstructs the history of the school through a rich assortment of primary documents from various university and state archives. Scholars and students interested in union, labor, and southern history will welcome this book.While the necessity for self-maintenance promoted a measure of self-sufficiency, it also distracted from the mission of the College, which was to train ... Koch put it, an aquot;educational communeaquot; and thus an impossible hybrid of two full-time occupations that could not successfully coexist. ... To be sure, there were other resident labor schools, most notably Brookwood and later Highlander, but none included aanbsp;...

Title:Radical Education in the Rural South
Author:William H. Cobb
Publisher:Wayne State University Press - 2000-01-01


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