A century of change: two-year education in the state of Alabama, 1866-1963
Much has been written about two-year education in Alabama during the governorships of George C. Wallace, but little about two-year education prior to his first inauguration in 1963. Yet nearly a third of the forty-three junior, technical, and community college institutions that eventually formed the Alabama Community College System had been established prior to 1963. This study reviews the major types of two-year colleges (historically black private junior college, public trade schools, and public junior colleges) established in Alabama from 1866 to 1963 by drawing upon case studies of institutional founding based upon primary document analysis. Alabama's first two-year institution was Selma University established in 1878 by the Alabama Colored Baptist Convention. Selma University operated as a private junior college for the newly freed slaves hungry for education. The first public two-year institution was the Alabama School of Trades, founded in Gadsden in 1925, which offered vocational education courses. A second trade school was established using federal vocational aid money in Decatur to produce trained workers to support the World War II war efforts. The first set of public trade schools created in Alabama followed the end of World War II with the passage of the Regional Trade and Vocational School Act of 1947, authored by freshman State Representative George C. Wallace, and endorsed by Governor James "Big Jim" Folsom. A third type of two-year college was established in 1961 when the Alabama Legislature passed a bill authorizing a public junior college in northwest Alabama. The 1901 Constitution was a powerful factor in hindering two-year college development in Alabama. With unstable funding and an inability to raise local funds imposed by the Constitution, school districts could not afford to operate public junior colleges. This led to two-year college development being controlled by politicians in Montgomery. The funding restrictions of the 1901 Constitution also meant that an institution legally authorized would be doomed without state funding, because the lack of local funding. It is therefore no accident that a broad two-year public educational system could not develop in Alabama prior to 1963 without a champion in the Governor's office.