Interracial cooperation and southern education between the wars: Robert B. Eleazer and the Conference on Education and Race Relations

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Robert Burns Eleazer (1877–1973), a liberal white Methodist from Tennessee, served as the educational director and director of publicity of the Atlanta-based Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC) from 1922 to 1942. As education director, he developed a strategy for improving race relations which entailed offering prizes to young people in the southern states for essays on racial minorities in American life and culture. The annual “America’s Tenth Man” essay prize generated hundreds of entries by white high school and college students, whose teachers were supported by the distribution of thousands of guides on African American history and literary achievements. Eleazer also campaigned for equal funding between the segregated school systems, and convened the Conference on Education and Race Relations, at which black and white professionals could discuss curriculum matters with a degree of freedom.

The objectives and work of the interracial cooperation movement have attracted increased scrutiny in recent years, and judgments that historians largely agreed upon thirty years ago have been questioned. With that interest has come a re-examination of key figures in the movement, but many remain neglected or misunderstood (Ellis 2013; Canady 2016; Brooks 2017). Eleazer’s role as the CIC’s director of publicity meant constant communication with regional and national journals about lynching and its prevention, poverty, migration, policing, and justice in the courts. He also attempted to radically alter the social studies and civics curriculum in southern education. This article attempts to shed light on the CIC’s education work and Eleazer’s role and motives in devising and distributing his programs. It also shows how a regional effort to alter the outlook of a new generation concerning respect and human equality predated the intercultural education movement’s attempts to do this on a larger scale after 1940 (Halvorsen and Mirel 2013). As such, it offers insights into a possible legacy of the interracial cooperation movement that followed World War I, to the civil rights movement that followed World War II.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Educational History Journal
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Mar 2020


  • Robert Burns Eleazer
  • Conference on Education and Race Relations
  • African American history
  • CERR
  • interracial cooperation movement

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