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Phelps Stokes History

Phelps Stokes Fund was born in 1911 through the bequest of Caroline Phelps Stokes.  Caroline gave the organization its direction, astounding for its time:  “improving housing, promoting racial harmony and providing education for Africans and African Americans, Native Americans and needy whites.”

In 1911, however, Caroline Phelps Stokes’ bequest was a radical notion because, at that time, women in America did not even have the right to vote; no social “safety-net” existed – the Social Security Act would not become law for two more decades; African-Americans had scant legal protections and few opportunities; and Native American children were being plucked off tribal lands to be sent to “Indian Schools.”  Poor whites, especially immigrants, fared only slightly better, working in “sweatshops,” and living in over-crowed tenements.  Africa was viewed as an exotic place inhabited by primitive and inferior “savages.”

In that environment, Phelps Stokes Fund was born. Wasting no time in getting started, at the very first meeting, on February 5, 1911, the Phelps Stokes’ Board of Trustees granted the sum of $35,000 to the Jeannes Teachers.  The Jeannes Teachers, of course, became the major force in the education of rural poor black children in the South.  Phelps Stokes trained and provided these “master teachers” – black women (because a Negro man could not then undertake such work due to the threat of lynching) who rode circuit to teach other teachers how to teach.

Today, Phelps Stokes Fund is America’s oldest continuously-operating foundation serving the needs of African-Americans, Native Americans, Africans, and the rural and urban poor.  Phelps Stokes played major roles in the creation of Howard University, Clark Atlanta University and Fisk University as Centers for Excellence in the education of blacks.  A sampling of the fruits of our efforts and vision includes major domestic and international organizations whose legacy resides in the Phelps-Stokes Fund:

American Indian Higher Education Consortium, African Student Aid Fund, Archbishop Desmond Tutu Southern African Scholarship Fund, Association of African Ambassadors, BWI Instituted of Liberia, Caribbean Cultural Association, Cooperative College Development Fund, Global Youth Innovation Network, Harlem Boys Choir, Jackie Robinson Foundation, National Homecomers Academy, Native-American Science Association, Ralph Bunche Societies, SENETRUST, South African Institute of Race Relations, United Negro College Fund.

As communication and transportation networks continue to “shrink the world,” Phelps Stokes’ work has become more important than ever.  We continue to build our programs in west-Africa, where Phelps Stokes has recently formed SENETRUST, the Senegalese Educational Trust.  Phelps Stokes has also launched its Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN) designed to bring together young people from around-the-World to develop the necessary skills, establish new relationships and to provide opportunities for leaders, entrepreneurs and budding talent concerned with the expansion of agricultural and food production in those countries least well served.  Our programs in Latin America and the Caribbean are designed to change cultural norms. For example, in the state of Choco, Columbia, Phelps Stokes is poised to create an educational trust to assist in creating the educational and training infrastructure needed to educate a burgeoning and predominantly Afro-descendent and indigenous population.  Phelps Stokes’ course is set to link “economic incentives” with “social purpose” -- including advancing two exciting new opportunities.  Though our National Homecomers Association program, Phelps Stokes has come to recognize that formerly-incarcerated persons (we call these individuals “Homecomers”) suffer discrimination and unrelenting stigmatization.  Upon “re-entry” to society, Homecomers are often “lost” – without knowledge of a changed world or access to basic services.  Phelps Stokes has identified similar circumstances for recent immigrants to America (we call these individuals “Newcomers).  Phelps Stokes is currently developing a pilot program – based loosely on the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) model – to provide products and services to Homecomers and Newcomers.  These programs will be financially self-sustaining and will concentrate purchasing power by pooling the demand of once-fragmented groups.