Rural Missouri - March 2020 - 51

By the mid-twenties,
students. In 2002, what
Bruce had resigned from
was left of Dalton Vocational
the school to become state
School was placed on the
inspector of Negro schools,
National Register of Historic
a position that became a
Places. But any hope that
platform for his advocacy
this would inspire a moveof vocational training. This
ment to preserve at least
focus became controversial
some of the buildings has
among black leaders of
not come to pass.
Missouri, many of whom
Why Nathaniel C. Bruce, a
were highly educated
well-educated man, showed
professionals in varied
up in Dalton in 1907 to
fields. In 1924, a young Roy
found his new school is not
Wilkins, future leader of the
known, but a major factor
NAACP, proclaimed Bruce's
must have been the fact that
emphasis on vocational
the town had 261 people and
photo courtesy Missouri State Archive
training to be "more than
contained a significant black
A group of Dalton Vocational School students during the early 1950s.
disastrous ... We can't get
population. Dalton was estabalong without the higher book learning and the man who
lished in 1867 as a Wabash Railroad town. Many black
says so is either playing to a 'cracker hillbilly' gallery for a
residents migrated there for job opportunities.
mess of pottage or else he is woefully ignorant." In 1925,
Bruce arrived armed with his excellent education,
Bruce gave up the inspector position.
including studies at Tuskegee Institute. There he was
Donor funding meant a hand-to-mouth existence for
influenced by teacher and mentor Booker T. Washington,
the school. Bruce and others pushed the state to establish
the founder of the famous institute for black vocational
a demonstration farm and agricultural school at Dalton
education. Washington insisted that black people would
Vocational School, as it was then known. Finally, in 1923,
have to start at the lowest rungs of the social ladder: "In
the state did. It fell under the control of the University
the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook
of Missouri College of Agriculture, but in 1929 was
the fact that the masses of us are to live by the production
transferred to Lincoln University in Jefferson City. The
of our hands ... (and) learn to dignify and glorify common
school was also directed to provide tuition free to black
labor and put brains and skill into the common occupachildren in neighboring segregated school districts. This
tions of life ... It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and
policy affected 19 districts whose black students had to be
not at the top." Bruce intended for his vocational school to
bussed to Dalton from as far away as 55 miles.
become the "Tuskegee of the Midwest."
Although perennially underfunded by the state legisThe project had a rocky start. Floods wiped out the first
lature and with faculty members among the lowest paid
two corn crops planted by Bruce and his five students. In
in the state, the school continued to grow. By 1931 there
1909 with the help of donors, Bruce was able to acquire
were 42 students. In 1942, they numbered 109. Still, there
a small tract on top of the bluff that became the nucleus
was never enough money to provide crucial facilities such
of the Bartlett Agricultural and Industrial School. It was
as a gym, auditorium, a better barn or library.
named after two generous contributors, Herschel and
The end of the school came as a result of the 1954 landEmily Bartlett of St. Joseph.
mark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of EducaOnce relocated to higher ground, the school gained
students and expanded. By 1914, Bartlett
tion of Topeka, which lead to school desegregation. With
the loss of the bused in students, school directors had
had earned widespread recognition as
well as ribbons for producing the state's
no choice but to shutter the institution. Thirty-three
largest yield of corn - 114 bushels per
black schools across the state closed.
Since
the closure of the Dalton Vocational
acre during a season of drought. The next
S
Dalton
School, the town's fortunes have plummeted
year, a $3,000 prize for corn production from
the Panama-Pacific International Exposition
dramatically. Every decade since has witnessed
the loss of half of the population. Around
paid for a new barn and several head of
1990, a local Memorial Day celebration called
cattle. Bruce said black people on black land
Dalton Days was created to fund maintenance
behind the celebrated Missouri mule could
and repair of the town cemetery and provide
not be beaten for growing corn or any other
crop.
a homecoming for far-flung families with local
roots. The affair was a rousing reunion that until
By 1920, some 500 students had attended
recently lured lively crowds back to Dalton once again to
the school; 200 had graduated. Fifty-four graduates
eat plates of catfish, watch a parade and reminisce about
either owned or managed farms. For boys, the school
the grand old days of Dalton, the businesses that once
offered instruction in chauffeuring, tailoring, cobbling,
were there and the long gone school where so many of
blacksmithing, carpentry, painting, machinery, animal
their relatives gained an education that helped launch
husbandry, farming and commercial courses. For girls,
them successfully into a wider world.
the curriculum was rather more domestic in orientation:
sewing, cooking, laundering, poultry raising, music,
Denny is an author and freelance writer from Lupus.
gardening, dressmaking and millinery.
MARCH 2020 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP

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Rural Missouri - March 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2020

Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - 4
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - 5
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Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Cover4
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