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b:bridgeforth_george_ruffum 2016/01/04 14:42 b:bridgeforth_george_ruffum 2019/03/07 07:48 current
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-<a href="http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/images/youmass/football_1901.jpg"><img src="http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/images/youmass/football_1901.jpg" alt="Football team, 1901" class="youmassimage" /></a>+<a href="http://scua.library.umass.edu/images/youmass/football_1901.jpg"><img src="http://scua.library.umass.edu/images/youmass/football_1901.jpg" alt="Football team, 1901" class="youmassimage" /></a>
<div class="caption">Football team, 1901 (Bridgeforth in center rear)</div> <div class="caption">Football team, 1901 (Bridgeforth in center rear)</div>
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-The first [[a:african_american_students|African American student]] to enroll at the Massachusetts Agricultural College was probably George Ruffin Bridgeforth, who arrived in Amherst in the fall of 1897. Born in Athens (Limestone County), Ala., on Oct. 5, 1873, Bridgeforth was nearly 24 when he entered as a freshman, and in some ways, he set a pattern for the pioneering cohort of African American students at MAC. Older than the average student and southern in origin, he had studied at an historically Black college (Talladega) prior to his arrival. Just as important, once he arrived, he became an active participant in the athletic and academic life of his new college.(1) +The first [[a:african_american_students|African American student]] to enroll at the Massachusetts Agricultural College was probably George Ruffin Bridgeforth (sometimes listed as George Ruffum Bridgeforth), who arrived in Amherst in the fall of 1897. Born in Athens (Limestone County), Ala., on Oct. 5, 1873, Bridgeforth was nearly 24 when he entered as a freshman, and in some ways, he set a pattern for the pioneering cohort of African American students at MAC. Older than the average student and southern in origin, he had studied at an historically Black college (Talladega) prior to his arrival. Just as important, once he arrived, he became an active participant in the athletic and academic life of his new college.(1)
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==== Post-M.A.C. career ==== ==== Post-M.A.C. career ====
-Like most of the first generation of African American students at Mass Aggie, Bridgeforth went on into a career in education at historically Black colleges. His first stop on the way was an important one: in 1902, he was appointed to the Agricultural Department at Tuskegee College, where he was thrown into connection with two of the most prominent leaders in African American education of the day, Booker T. Washington and George W. Carver.+Like most of the first generation of African American students at Mass Aggie, Bridgeforth pursued a career in education at historically Black colleges. His first stop on the way was at the State Normal School in Atlanta, Ga., but by 1902, he landed a position with the Agricultural Department at Tuskegee College, home to two of the most prominent leaders in African American education of the day, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
-Described by historian Linda McMurry as "a big, energetic, blustery man with a flair and a taste for administrative power," and the "temperamental opposite" of Carver, Bridgeforth was ambitious in his attempts to climb the ladder at Tuskegee. He was successful, too, but unfortunately, this success exacerbated the personality clash with Carver to result in a famously bitter and protracted feud. In the beginning, Carver had apparently advised against hiring Bridgeforth (as barn manager), and Bridgeforth responded by resisting Carver's authority wherever he could. After Bridgeforth was appointed Director of Agricultural Operations at the College in about 1907, friction with the milder-mannered Carver peaked, so badly so that their work responsibilities had to be completely separated: while Bridgeforth continued as Director of Agriculture, Carver was assigned oversight of the research and Experiment Station.(7)+Described by historian Linda McMurry as "a big, energetic, blustery man with a flair and a taste for administrative power," and the "temperamental opposite" of Carver, Bridgeforth was ambitious in his attempts to climb the ladder at Tuskegee. He was successful, too, but unfortunately, this success exacerbated the personality clash with Carver to result in a famously bitter and protracted feud. In the beginning, Carver had reporterdly advised against hiring Bridgeforth (as barn manager), and Bridgeforth responded by resisting Carver's authority wherever he could. After Bridgeforth was put in charge of the "Jesup Agricultural Wagon for Better Farming" in 1906 -- an adventurous experiment in agricultural extension -- and particularly after he was promoted to Director of Agricultural Operations at the College in about 1907, friction with the milder-mannered Carver peaked. Things eventually became so bad so that their work responsibilities had to be completely separated: while Bridgeforth continued as Director of Agriculture, Carver was assigned oversight of the research and Experiment Station.(7)
-Even this arrangement failed to quell the conflict, so in May 1918, Bridgeforth decided to leave Tuskegee to become a county extension agent and then President of the Industrial and Educational Institute in Topeka, Kansas, before returning home to Athens, Alabama, in 1925 to work in various capacities, including teaching school, dairying, and teaching at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College in Nashville (8).+Even this arrangement failed to quell the conflict, Bridgeforth ultimately left Tuskegee after Washington's death (probably not coincidentally) and in May 1918, accepted a position as President of the Kansas Industrial and Educational Institute in Topeka. During his seven years at "the Western Tuskegee," he established a hospital and nursing school, but by the mid-1920s, he returned home to Athens to work in various capacities, including teaching school, dairying, selling real estate, and teaching at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College in Nashville (8).
-Bridgeforth's return to Athens, however, also signaled a new commitment to racial uplift. During his time at Tuskegee, if not before, Bridgeforth had developed a keen philosophy of community rooted in independent Black land ownership. To achieve this goal, he, along with several relatives and associates from Tuskegee formed the Southern Small Farm Land Company in 1910, and by working cooperatively, they soon established themselves as the only Black landowners in Limestone County. As the Company grew, it expanded scope to assist landless tenant farmers in acquiring their own adjacent property, which in turn led to the establishment of an all-black community of landholders they called Beulahland. Although a few community members were uprooted by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s to make way for the Wheeler Dam Reservoir, Beulahland was a success and many of the descendants of the original residents still remain on land acquired by their families in the 1920s. Always energetic, Bridgeforth lived out his conviction that land ownership alone would not bring about full equality: he was one of the first African Americans in the county to register to vote (9). +In some ways, Bridgeforth's return home signaled a renewed commitment to pursuing racial uplift. During his time at Tuskegee, if not before, Bridgeforth had developed a keen philosophy of community rooted in independent Black land ownership. To achieve this goal, he, along with several relatives and associates from Tuskegee formed the Southern Small Farm Land Company in 1910, and by working cooperatively, they soon established themselves as the only Black landowners in Limestone County. As the Company grew, it expanded scope to assist landless tenant farmers in acquiring their own adjacent property, which in turn led to the establishment of an all-black community of landholders they called Beulahland. Although a few community members were uprooted by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s to make way for the Wheeler Dam Reservoir, Beulahland was a success and many of the descendants of the original residents still remain on land acquired by their families in the 1920s. Always energetic, Bridgeforth lived out his conviction that land ownership alone would not bring about full equality: he was one of the first African Americans in the county to register to vote (9).
Bridgeforth and his wife Datie (Miller) Bridgeforth (1880-1971) raised a family of one son and three daughters. He died in Limestone Co., Ala., on Jan. 30, 1955. Bridgeforth and his wife Datie (Miller) Bridgeforth (1880-1971) raised a family of one son and three daughters. He died in Limestone Co., Ala., on Jan. 30, 1955.
b/bridgeforth_george_ruffum.1451936564.txt.gz · Last modified: 2016/01/04 14:42 by rscox
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