Carrie Thomas Jordan
Bishop Jordan’s mother was Carrie Thomas Jordan. Guided by a racial uplift educational philosophy and personal determination, she provided opportunities for impoverished Black children in the Atlanta and Durham communities where she worked. A 1889 graduate of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, she was the daughter of Rev. Lawrence Thomas, one of the founders of Morris Brown College and pastor of the oldest African American church in Atlanta, Big Bethel AME.
It was unusual during the early 1900s for white women to have professional careers; it was rare that Black women did. However, Carrie was a “highly skilled and progressive educator1 who served as a teacher, principal, and Jeanes supervisor. It was her contributions as a Jeanes supervisor in Durham, North Carolina from 1923-26 that have been documented.
In 1907, Anna T. Jeanes, a Philadelphia Quaker philanthropist, donated $1 million for the creation of a fund to hire Black supervisors for southern rural schools to improve the quality of education for Black children and their communities. These well-respected women, according to historian Valinda Littlefield,2 were essentially county superintendents for Black schools whose duties included educational issues such as curriculum design and teacher development, as well as community issues related to health, hygiene, illiteracy, and poverty. These considerable responsibilities were implemented with few resources from the state. Their $45 a month salary ($600 in today’s economy) came from Northern philanthropists. Consequently, Jeanes teachers had to raise money to support their own educational initiatives, including building and repairing the schools where they worked.
In 2011, the Durham County Library celebrated the contributions of Carrie Jordan and other noted Jeanes teachers in an online exhibit, The Women Who Ran the Schools: The Jeanes Teachers and Durham County’s Rural Black Teachers.3 Able4 wrote that Carrie complained to the white state supervisor that “many of the school houses were in such poor condition that they were unfit for use.” Carrie decided that the state’s lack of concern for Black education would not deter her resolve to build and repair schools. Consequently, she organized church and community rallies and solicited funds directly from the Chicago philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald. Her efforts resulted in 12 additional schools for Black children.
Because of the low expectations of the white supervisors, the northern philanthropists, or the Black educators themselves, some Jeanes supervisors taught Black girls domestic skills like sewing, cooking, and dressmaking and boys farming and carpentry skills. Carrie, on the other hand, developed a curriculum to prepare Black children for a world that neither they nor their community could envision. In her 1923-24 report5 to her white supervisor, N. C. Newbold, she presented an enriched curriculum for Black children that focused on spelling, geography, and nature study. She designed the curriculum based on the State Course of Study Guide that was intended for white students. Referring to her spelling goals she said, “An effort was made to develop in each child a spelling conscience--the ability to know when a word is spelled correctly or incorrectly; to teach the use of the dictionary and the need for looking up words when uncertain of the spelling or meaning of a word. Games and spelling devices were used to motivate the drill and put life and interest into the spelling class.” In order to increase the Black students’ knowledge of geography, Carrie solicited funds from the Black community and the Black Teachers’ Association to purchase maps, globes, and travel magazines which gave her students “an incentive for doing school tasks which they had not had heretofore.”
Some of the school traditions she established continued for decades. For example, she raised $1500 for countywide commencement services where “thousands of blacks gathered to celebrate the achievement of their children.6 She took the highest achievers in the county to Durham State Normal School (now North Carolina Central University) to encourage them to attend college. Undoubtedly she assisted in their matriculation since her husband, Dock Jordan, was a professor at the institution.
Carrie Thomas Jordan made an incredible impact on the lives of the families of Durham County, North Carolina. Like her father, Rev. Lawrence Thomas, and her husband, Dock Jordan, she was unafraid of the white power structure that tried to restrict the educational aspirations of Black children and their community. Although praised for her work and admired by the Black community for whom she worked tirelessly, she did not continue her assignment as Jeanes supervisor in 1926. Carrie Thomas Jordan is buried in Beechwood Cemetery in Durham.
2Littlefield, V. W. (1999). “To Do the Next Needed Thing”: Jeanes Teachers in the Southern United States 1908–1934. In Telling Women’s Lives. United Kingdom: Open University Press.
4Abel, J. Persistence and Sacrifice: Durham County's African American Community and Durham's Jeanes Teachers Build Community and Schools, 1900-1930. Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Graduate School of Duke University, December 9, 2009.
5Carrie Thomas. Annual Report to N.C. Newbold, September 1923- August 1924. Department of Public Instruction, Division of Negro Education. Special Subject File Box #2, Folder N.