The Self-Help Department

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The unexpected disappointments experienced in establishing the self-help department are worthy of a brief mention. They serve to illustrate some foolish notions that prevailed among some of our first patrons, and prepare the way for a good suggestion.

The aim of this department is to enlarge the scope of the training work of the institution by the employment of students, as far as possible, to do the necessary work during vacations as well as the chores during the school-terms; and by this means, reducing the number of hired helpers, afford lucrative employment to the greatest number of students, as a means of self help.

In view of the needy and helpless condition of the people in their new homes, and the urgent prospective demand for more teachers, one would naturally suppose every family would be eager to take advantage of such an opportunity. The scheme however was a new one and it was regarded with suspicion and disfavor. The effort to have leading families, those that seemed to stand in the nearest relation to it by having previously enjoyed its privileges most freely, co-operate in the establishment of this plan, by permitting one of their children to remain at the academy during the vacation period or even do extra work a part of the day during the term, and thereby be able to continue and complete a course of study that would fit them for teaching, proved a complete disappointment. This disappointment was the occasion of two earnest appeals before two different meetings of the Presbytery, but neither of them received more than a respectful hearing, no favorable response.

Some, whose children had been previously carried from year to year gratuitously, no doubt, regarded it as the innovation of a stranger, who was adroitly depriving them of their former rights and privileges; while others seemed to view it as a discovery to their neighbors that they were not able to pay for the education of their children. Some of the larger girls at the academy, when requested to arrange to do some extra work at the school declined, saying they had homes of their own and did not have to work for others away from home.

A Promising Girl

That this was not the sentiment, however, of all the larger girls appears in the following incident. A very promising girl of sixteen came to the school of her own accord. She was animated with the desire to become a Christian teacher. About the middle of the term, a younger brother called with the request from her mother, that she return home. No reason was assigned and she knew of no good one. She sent her mother word that she desired to remain, and resumed her studies. Two weeks later an older brother called with a preemptory demand that she return home with him. The reason assigned by her mother for this unexpected and arbitrary request was, “Daughter can get along without school as well as her mother.” It seems scarcely necessary to state that this promising and aspiring young lady was not permitted to return.

Thoughtless Boys

The first to acquiesce in the arrangement to pay a part of their term expense by working at the academy during the vacation were some boys, who had not learned to work; and it seemed impossible for them to conceal the fact that they did not want to work. They were not old enough or did not know enough to appreciate the privileges accorded to them; and as many as three of them ran away, when most needed.

The work deserted by two of these boys was undertaken by a third one, not then a student. He was a willing worker and at the end of the summer found that his job at the academy was his best one during the season. He illustrated the difference between the worthy and the worthless. The worthy achieve success where the worthless make a miserable failure.

Thoughtful Young People

It was left for some thoughtful young people living at a distance to come, take advantage of the opportunities thus afforded and make this self-help or industrial department a real, visible and practical success. While deriving a life-long benefit for themselves, they have conferred a lasting benefit to the institution by remaining long enough to reach the higher grades. Their efficient service in various lines of work has served to show that the varied and thorough training given during recent vacations has been very valuable to them.

The vacation period has afforded the best opportunity for instruction and practice on the organ, for reading the many good books in the library and for special training in farming, carpentry and in the various kinds of work, like canning fruit or the manufacture of sorghum, that require attention only during the summer months. It has hitherto seemed to be the golden period of the year when the personal responsibility and general efficiency of the student has been most rapidly developed, a fact no doubt due to the freer daily association with the superintendent and teachers. The full course of training provided at the institution can be fully enjoyed only by those who remain during the summer months.

Vacation Workers

The vacation workers have always been regarded as members of the Oak Hill family and every personal want has been promptly supplied. The habit of reading or learning something every day, kept them prepared for doing their best work on the first as well as their last day of the term; while others would take a week or month, perhaps before they could settle down to good work in the school room. They were allowed a reasonable credit for every day they worked during the vacation and were not requested to do any extra work during the term, except in cases of emergency. The self-help students, who rendered extra service during the term, dropped one study, and they also received a reasonable allowance for all the extra work they performed.

Jamestown College

Effective Christian work by students at home during the summer vacation was admirably illustrated by the young people attending the Presbyterian college at Jamestown, North Dakota, during the summer of 1913.

Every student at the close of the term had formed the decision to lead a Christian life. Under the inspiration of a resident lawyer, John Knouff, a number of them became members of the mission band that had for its object the in gathering of new scholars into their own Sabbath schools, and the college they were attending.

The result was a very pleasant surprise and a source of great profit to all of them. They reported the organization of a score of new Sunday schools in neglected communities, and an enrollment of 1231 new scholars through their instrumentality. An incidental result was a greatly increased enrollment of new students at the college they had so worthily represented.

Support Of Self-Supporting Students

Where does the money come from that is necessary to meet the monthly allowances placed to the credit of the self-help students? This is a very practical question and a few thoughts on it may be helpful.

When a farmer employs a man to help him on his farm he expects to pay him from the annual cash income, when the products of the farm are sold. This would naturally be true of the boys who do the farm work at Oak Hill if there was a surplus to sell; but hitherto it has not been sufficient to meet the demands of the boarding department and stock.

It would however not be true of the work of the boys who build fence, clear new land or erect and improve buildings. The product of the labor of these students is a permanent improvement, that increases the value of the land to the owner, and it cannot be sold annually for cash, like the products of the farm.

But the superintendent has to pay cash for the groceries consumed by these students the same as for the others; and when their monthly allowance for labor is transferred to the enrollment or other account book, it represents an item for which some one must furnish him the cash. Where will he get his money? Who will furnish it to him? Manifestly he must look to the owner of the property for it, and the owner in this instance is the Board of Missions for Freedmen. By using tools and implements the student has been trained in their use and the results of his work have become a permanent possession of the Board.

In as much as most permanent improvements do not ordinarily bring any direct annual income to the Board, but serve rather to increase the facilities of the school and provide additional opportunities for self-help, the question arises, “Where does the Board get the money for the support of the self-supporting students?”
The answer to this inquiry is, the Board has to solicit and receive it from the friends of Christian education.

This is a very important statement and it is often not very clearly understood. When the actual cost of carrying a student through a seven months term is found to be about $50.00 then that is the lowest amount that will enable the superintendent to carry a vacation worker, as a self-supporting student, through the period of an entire year.

How It Works

There are some features of this problem that are quite interesting. The student that does the most for the permanent improvement of the institution that has educated him, commonly called his “Alma Mater,” or fostering mother, finds at the time of completing his course, that by that means he has done most for himself, by advancing more rapidly than others in the course of training and study. He has also done something in the way of increasing the facilities for the education and uplift of his race.

Whilst his employment was creating a demand for a benevolent gift from some friend of Christian education he was unconscious of that fact, and is happy in the consciousness, that he is earning his way through school like a man;-one, who wants to make most of himself. He goes forth to enter upon the duties of active life as a true or “good soldier” prepared to “endure hardness,” if necessary, and ready to lend a helping hand to other worthy young people.

Enlargement And Permanent Improvement

The zealous interest of the superintendent in this self-help industrial department appears in the broad foundation he had hoped to lay for it in the purchase of so many acres for the Oak Hill farm.

There were other good motives that prompted the purchase of land, when the opportunity was afforded to do so at it which price in 1908 such as provision for future supplies of wood as a cheap fuel, about twenty-five cords a year being needed, and ample pastures for the herds of cattle and hogs, that are easily and profitably raised and greatly needed, but the most urgent motive was the earnest desire to provide an agricultural base large enough to enable the self-help department of the academy to become in time self-supporting.

“Enlargement” and “permanent improvement” became the watchwords while laying the foundation for this department.

The manifest need of it had been deeply and indelibly impressed. The conviction also prevailed that, when properly organized and developed, so as to meet their most urgent needs, the self-help department in an educational institution works like a live magnet in attracting the patronage of many worthy young people.

Permanent improvement year after year by self-supporting students, seeking training is an arrangement that has in it the germ of expansion that means enlargement and growth with passing years. This was the ideal towards which we were moving with might and main. We wanted to plant the live magnet that would make Oak Hill an attractive and pre-eminently useful educational center for all the Choctaw Freedmen.

There are no annual taxes on lands used for public or mission school purposes, and all the annual income tends to lessen to the Board, the local expenses of the teachers and students. The net income from the farm is the surplus that remains after deducting the cost of management from the gross receipts.

Whenever this net income is more than sufficient to cover the local support of the teachers, it goes toward the support of the self-supporting students; whenever it is sufficient to cover all of their monthly allowances, this self-help department is self-supporting; and special remittances from the Board will not then be needed for the worthy, industrious and ambitious young people, in that department. The attainment of this object is worthy of noble and constant endeavor.

It is also worthy of note, that good agricultural lands, purchased at the government price in a new section of the country that is destined to be filled with new settlers, is always a good investment. The land rapidly increases in value where the incoming of new settlers causes a rapid increase in the population.

This annual increase in the value of new land is known as its “unearned increment.” This unearned increment is now accruing to the Board on every acre that has been purchased. Those that were purchased first have already doubled in value.

Every acre of land added to the Oak Hill farm at its virgin price means now, by reason of its annual income and gradual increase in value, a live unit added to the permanent endowment of the institution and enlarges the scope of the self-help department.

Self-Support Means Independence

The Negro needs to be taught to be “self-dependent, self-reliant and self-respecting.”

Wherever public schools have been established and supplied with good teachers and text-books, they have rendered efficient service in improving the condition of the people. The lack of text-books has caused many of the rural schools to prove very inefficient, one textbook often having to serve as many as three pupils. Then there are yet large sections of some of the southern states in which there are no public schools for the colored people.

In proportion as the colored people attain a general Christian education and become progressive, industrial workers, do they rise to their natural inheritance; an inheritance that brings to them what America now holds of freedom, justice, opportunity and benevolence to the oppressed of other lands, that are coming a million a year, to locate in this land of civil and religious freedom.

Among their essential needs to self-support are a fair industrial opportunity, distribution, education and equal protection of the laws.

Whenever too many unskilled workers, including women and children, crowd into towns and cities, the number that have to live in poverty-stricken hovels is greatly increased. Their general health and good morals are also endangered.

Every youth will do well to adopt the thrilling watchwords of the early American patriots, “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.”

Park College

Rev. John A. McAfee, the eminent founder of Park College, Parkville, near Kansas City, Missouri, realizing the need of hardy and energetic ministers during the pioneer days of Missouri and Kansas, manifested a commendable wisdom and foresight in the planting of that institution, by making special provision for the self-help of those, who were candidates for the ministry and those wishing to be missionary teachers. The self-help department then established has greatly promoted its growth, and increased its usefulness. The visitor now sees a beautiful campus of 20 acres occupied by massive stone buildings erected largely by student labor. They include a fine administration building, chapel, library, observatory, boarding and professors houses, and a half dozen large dormitories. He will also find an attendance of 420 students, and a farm of 500 acres cultivated by them.

Its worthy representatives in the ministry may now be found in nearly every state of the Union and many, as foreign missionaries and teachers, are doing a noble work in other lands. A large proportion of its most worthy representatives owe their present position and usefulness to the opportunity for self-help, provided in the agricultural and mechanical departments, while pursuing their studies at this classical institution.

It was founded in 1875 and was named after Col. George S. Park, the friend and helper of Rev. John A. McAfee. He donated the original college building and one hundred acres of land. At present the college owns 1000 acres, 500 of which are in the college farm. Both of its worthy founders died about the year 1890, but the good work of the institution they planted is going forward with annually increasing usefulness. Though established more recently than many others, it is now very highly prized as one of the most important of our Presbyterian colleges, in maintaining the supply of well trained ministers and Christian teachers.

A Suggestion To Parents

Having stated the aims and advantages of the self-help department the following suggestion to parents seems appropriate.

If you have a bright son or daughter that can be spared for a time at home, take your child, as Hannah did Samuel, while he is young enough to learn rapidly, to the superintendent of the academy, and, if the way be clear, enter into an agreement as Hannah did, that he shall remain there, if needed, until he has completed the course of study provided at the institution, earning his expenses, as far as possible, by his own industry.

Regard your contract as a matter of honor and refrain from calling him away when his services have begun to be of some value to the institution, merely because you need some one to do a few day’s work. Encourage him to be true and faithful, that he may win and hold the esteem and confidence of his instructors.

If a number of parents will pursue this policy, the academy will accomplish its mission and prove a boon and blessing to you as a people, one generation serving another.



MLA Source Citation:

Flickinger, Robert Elliott. Choctaw Freedmen and Oak Hill Industrial Academy, Valliant, Oklahoma. Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen. Pittsburgh. 1914 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 25 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-self-help-department.htm - Last updated on May 5th, 2012


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