Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry was an educator and politician who started his career as a passionate defender of slavery, arguing that it was good both for the South and for African Americans. After the Civil War, he became resigned to the liberation of African Americans and was among the White leaders of educational initiatives for Blacks focused on industrial training.
Curry was born to William Curry and Susan Winn on June 5, 1825, in Lincoln County, northeastern Georgia. By 1834, William owned 7,000 acres and forty-two slaves. Jabez was educated at both the Willington Academy and the Double Branches School, with advanced tutoring by University of Dublin graduate Daniel W. Finn in Latin, Greek, algebra, and geometry. The family relocated to Alabama in 1837. He later attended Franklin College (now the University of Georgia), excelling in classical studies before entering Harvard Law School, class of 1845.
Boundless curiosity, superior training, and Harvard exposure helped sculpt a capable intellectual and fiery orator. His sociopolitical commitments were to slavery, states rights, and secession. Following a very brief military deployment, Curry was elected to the Alabama state legislature in 1847. From 1850–1853 he was absent from politics as he prospered in the family business. In 1853, he was reelected to the Alabama legislature as a states’ rights advocate. In 1857, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he developed a passionate defense of slavery. His recurring theme held that slavery brought civilization and great prosperity to the South. He further argued that slavery had a salutary effect on Blacks.
In January 1861, Curry was elected deputy from Alabama to the new Confederate States of America. He was later assigned to the Confederate Army as commissioner of habeas corpus investigating “disloyalty” among the civilian population.
Following the Civil War, Curry was jailed for inciting rebellion and exchanging illegal currency. Negotiating a $250 payment, he was pardoned. His hardened political polemics now gave way to uttering the Holy Scriptures. He was soon selected president of Howard Baptist College in Marion, Alabama (1865–1868), and became ordained. Having revived Howard financially, Curry accepted a professorship in history and English literature at Richmond College, Virginia (1868–1881).
During the late 1860s and early 1870s, Curry spoke out passionately against the “horrors” of Reconstruction and the dangers of miscegenation. Additionally, he delivered regular sermons and emerged as a high-profile Southern intellectual.
During the 1880s, he moved between education and politics, serving as general agent for the Peabody Fund, which provided philanthropic support for Southern education, and ambassador to Spain (1885–1888). The civic-minded and patriotic Curry was resigned to the new social order. In his mature years, Curry understood that the “Negro problem” had to be addressed for the country to prosper. He came to view accommodationist Negro education and education for poor Southern Whites as steps toward nation-building.
In 1891, Curry became general agent of the Slater Fund, dedicated to industrial training for Blacks. He supported and praised Hampton and Tuskegee and spent his last productive years as part of the interlocking directorate of White architects of Black education.
- Alderman, E. A., & Gordon, A. C. (1911). J. L. M. Curry: A biography. New York: Macmillan.
- Anderson, J. D. (1988). The education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- Rice, J. P. (1949). J.L.M. Curry: Southerner, statesman and educator. New York: King’s Crown Press.
- Watkins, W. H. (2001). The White architects of Black education: Ideology and power in America, 1865–1954. New York: Teachers College Press.
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