The Black Presence in the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service since 1945: An American Quest for Service and Equity

This article is an institutional history of the development of race policy within the federal Cooperative Extension Service. It demonstrates that the popular belief in African-American inferiority and pragmatic political compromises aimed at creating a bureaucracy serving the nation’s agricultural constituency and ensuring its longevity, led to a conscious marginalization of African-American interests within the program. Federal extension officials not only tolerated, but actively supported, discrimination within the southern branches of the service. African-American leadership protested against the adverse effects of racial policies in the Extension Service from the very beginning.

While there were some limited positive gains in the number of staff and availability of services for rural African Americans, these changes did not challenge the suzerainty of whites over the program. In the post-World War II era–especially after 1950–African Americans confronted white extension leadership. Extension officials hid behind a bureaucratic fa├žade and a flawed interpretation of the federal-state cooperative agreement to delay institutional restructuring. Political appointees pushed the service toward policies of racial justice; however, extension leadership continued to move slowly on fundamental transformation. As a result, the adjustments did not lead to a fundamental re-thinking of race policy in the service and ultimately contributed to the disappearance of the African-American extension force to a significant degree.