‘sha TAW kwa’
NCCU’s first name drawn from populist education movement
Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Updated: Thursday, October 22, 2009 13:10
When you read that N.C. Central University was instituted in 1910 as the National Religious Training School Chautauqua, you've got to ask yourself: "What exactly does this ‘Chautauqua' refer to?"
"It translates into ‘meeting place,'" said Terry Huff, coordinator of University dimensions of learning.
The idea behind the Chautauqua summer-camp movement, which was rooted in Christian instruction and popular education, was to bring culture, lectures, plays, music and education to rural and small town America.
At their peak year in 1924, Chautauquas appeared in about 10,000 communities and served roughly, 45 million citizens.
The Chautauquas, which originated in Chautauqua, New York, would often set up tents beside lakes or in groves.
Former president Theodore Roosevelt, described the Chautauqua movement as, "the most American thing in America."
According to historians, the Chautauqua movement should be seen in the context of the late 19th century populism and its concern for the common man and disdain for political corruption.
The first Chautauqua was a Sunday school assembly to train Sunday school teachers in western New York in 1874. Over the years, the Chautauquas became less centered on religion.
"The earliest classes included upholstery, salesmanship and printing," said Huff.
According to Huff, industrial courses were later added that included skills like cement work and the school of dyeing.
"Once the Circuits were established, there was nothing during their heyday that evoked the excitement and promise of summer more than the coming of the brown tent," writes Chautauqua chronicler, Charlotte Canning.
An 1891 Chautauqua program promised to give "the college outlook on life."
While the Chautauquas were oriented to whites, some travelling assemblies included African-American gospel singers, giving whites a rare opportunity to witness black culture.
The Chautauqua circuit died out during the Great Depression, with a few of the assemblies remaining until the mid-1940s.