The New Farmers of American (NFA) and the Future Farmers of America (FFA) were merged in 1965. That is a well-known fact. What is not as well-known is why? What led to the merger of these two organizations? The answer is rather simple – pressure from the Federal government. In this Friday Footnote, we will examine the events leading to the merger of the NFA and FFA.
In 1954 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. This ruling overturned the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision of 1896. As a result, schools in some states started the process of integration. However, the process was slow and was resisted in many southern states.
More often than not, during integration, the black schools were closed or repurposed and the students were sent to the white schools because the schools were typically newer and in better condition. During this era, many of the Rosenwald Schools described in the 09/07/2018 Friday Footnote closed. The photo below shows what many black students faced when they started attending white schools.
Things started to change with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This federal law, backed by enforcement by the Justice Department, began the process of desegregation in earnest.
1962. The leadership of the NFA and FFA apparently saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall. The first discussions about merging the two organization were in 1962. There was an exploratory meeting involving the officers of the two groups (Strickland, 1994, p. 35).
1963. The merger talks got serious in 1963. The federal FFA officials were “requested” to attend a meeting with Arthur L. Harris, Associate Commissioner of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare on July 1, 1963, to “...discuss the future of segregated components of these organizations.” The Future Homemakers of America (FHA) were also to attend this meeting because they too had a similar segregated organization – the New Homemakers of America (NHA). At this meeting, it was made crystal clear that the groups were to merge with their counterparts.
In a note after the meeting, William Paul Gray, the FFA Executive Secretary, updated A. W. Tenney, the Director of the Agricultural Education Service in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare about the meeting (See Attached Documents, p. 2). Gray indicated that Dr. Harris wanted to know if the integration could be accelerated, what were the feelings of the NFA towards integrating, and what would be the next steps if an Executive Order was given to integrate the two organizations. The FFA was requested to discuss the matter further and respond to Dr. Arnold.
Gray (left) and Tenney (right) are shown below
After the July 1 meeting, Harris sent a memo (dated July 10, 1963) to Dr. Walter Arnold, Assistant Commission of the Division of Vocational and Technical Education and Francis Keppel, Commissioner of Education about the meeting. Harris stated, “We believe that it is desirable and appropriate that the Office of Education proceed without delay to make its position clear with reference to discriminatory practices in these associations.” (See Attached Documents, p. 4)
The FFA Board of Directors (including the student officers) met in Washington on July 25-26, 1963, just a few weeks after the Harris meeting, for a regularly scheduled board meeting. No mention of the merger discussion is found in the National Board of Directors July 1963 meeting minutes. This is strange since there had been meetings and correspondence earlier in the month about the need to merge the two organizations. Why was it not discussed at the board meeting?
A side note - At the October 1963 FFA Board Meeting the “Members of the Board of Student Officers stated that during their term as National FFA Officers, they felt the need of being kept better informed of the latest FFA Developments” (p. 8). I wonder if this was because they might have been deliberately left out of discussions about merging the FFA and NFA.
On July 26, 1963, Dr. Arnold, responding to the Harris memo, updated the Commissioner of Education, on the progress of the deliberations (See Attached Document, p. 5). Dr. Arnold proposed having a meeting in Washington, D. C. of state directors, state supervisors and the leadership of the youth organizations. Arnold wrote, “We believe it would be advisable to prepare a series of specific proposals to present to this group concerning the eventual complete integration of these organizations and that consideration be given to future dates for the completion of various phases of this process.”
At the October 1963 FFA Board Meeting Dr. Tenney, the national advisor, updated the group about pending federal legislation (the Vocational Education Act of 1963) and the possible implications it might have for the FFA. There was no discussion of the FFA-NFA merger.
1964. A letter (See Attached Document, p. 6) from the U.S. Commissioner of Education Keppel dated September 22, 1964, to Dr. Tenney reiterated that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act applied to the FFA – that participation in the FFA was to be provided “...without distinction on the basis of race, color, or national origin.” Keppel then encouraged the FFA to use time at the upcoming national FFA convention to make plans for “a smooth and constructive course of progress.”
At the October 1964 FFA Board meeting, which was held immediately prior to the National FFA convention, the three adult leaders of the NFA (G. W. Conoly - Florida A&M, W. T. Johnson - North Carolina A&T, and E. M. Norris - Prairie View A&M) were in attendance. They had been invited to “sit in on the meeting to review some of the latest developments, on the national level, with respect to the forthcoming merger… (p. 3). Dr. Tenney then discussed the various legal issues and actions that were involved in the merger, He indicated the “…we have been cooperating closely with the Civil Rights Commission on the integration of the FFA and NFA organizations, in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964” (p. 3). Conoly, Johnson, and Norris are shown below.
At the Board Meeting, five recommendations regarding the merger were agreed upon. See the portions of the Minutes regarding the merger that are in the attached document (p. 8):
1. State committees should be established to work out state-level issues regarding the merger (it should be noted that five states merged their NFA and FFA prior to the national merger. New Jersey, West Virginia and Maryland are the ones I have documented. I don't know the other two).
2. Have professional Negro Educators serve as Board Consultants during the merger.
3. The merger will become effective on July 1, 1965 (in earlier discussions June 1, 1968, was the target date for the merger but that was not approved by officials in the Office of Education)
4. The NFA will be allowed to hold one final convention in 1965 to wrap things up (they had been told by a federal education official at the 1964 NFA convention that this would be the last. That was a shock).
5. NFA members are to be encouraged to attend the 1965 FFA convention where special activities will be planned.
Dr. Tenney indicated the recommendations would be presented to the Commissioner of Education for his approval. The recommendations would also be presented to state advisors at their meeting at the convention. (Note: Keppel did respond to Tenney and changed item 2 to state that the NFA and FFA Boards would be involved in the merger).
1965. A. W. Tenney sent a letter (dated February 4, 1965) to Education Commissioner Keppel to update him on the progress of the merger. He said everybody was on board and there were definite plans to complete the merger (see attached document, p. 10)
There was a joint meeting of the student officers and adult officers of the FFA and NFA in July of 1965. At this meeting, the NFA leadership made several requests in the form of resolutions. The requests were to have equitable representation on the FFA Board, have a permanent civil service position in Washington in the Agricultural Education Service to be filled by a black person, and to allow monies in the state NFA coffers to be used by former NFA chapters to buy FFA paraphernalia to replace their NFA paraphernalia. The photo below is the 1965 board meeting.
The resolutions were referred to the FFA governing committee (see attached document, p. 12). What happened to the requests? The FFA Board was not restructured to include black representation. The request for a new Civil Service position was not approved by the Office of Education. However, in 1967 a black person, J. W. Warren, Jr from North Carolina, was appointed to a position in the Agricultural Education Service and served until the early 1980s. Mr. Warren had been an NFA national president and was a state level supervisor in North Carolina. Each former NFA chapter did receive $12 to purchase FFA paraphernalia
Most people think the actual merger of the FFA and NFA occurred at the 1965 National FFA Convention. There was an impressive ceremony (more about that in the future) and the NFA chorus performed. However, the date of July 1, 1965, was the official merger date agreed to by the NFA, FFA, and Office of Education (The FHA-NHA merger date was July 15, 1965). After July 1, 1965, the NFA no longer “officially” existed.
The photo shows the NFA choir performing at the National Convention in 1965. Since the merger was official in July, you will note the choir members are wearing FFA jackets. The NFA chorus was made up of state winning NFA quartets.
One should realize different terms have been used to describe the joining of the two organizations. We commonly hear the word “merger”. However, in the literature, we also find the words “absorption”, “swallow-up”, “Termination”, and “hostile takeover.” Next week we will look at the “merger” from various viewpoints. This Footnote focused on the facts of the merger. Next week we will look at the emotions, feelings, and impact of the merger.
A question to think about – At the time of the NFA-FFA merger there were separate teacher organizations for “colored” and “white” teachers in the South. In the 1966 Agriculture Teachers Directory Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia are listed as having separate agriculture teacher organizations segregated by race. How long did it take for them to merge?
One Observation – In preparing this Friday Footnote I found references to various meetings and documents of which I could find no record. That either means I didn’t dig deep enough, or the documentation doesn’t exist. I found enough information to adequately substantiate the facts about the FFA-NFA merger, but someone should take the time and effort to develop a more detailed account of the merger.
Norris, E. M. (1993). Forty Long Years. Prairie View, TX. Prairie View A&M College
Strickland, D. (1994). New Farmers of America in Retrospect: The Formative Years 1935-1965. Homestead, TX: Joyco Printing.
Tenney, A. W. (1977). The FFA at 50: A Golden Past A Brighter Future. Alexandria, VA. FFA Supply Service.
Wakefield, D.B. & Talbert, B. A. (2000). Exploring the Past of the New Farmers of American (NFA): The Merger with the FFA. 27th Annual National Agricultural Education Research Conference, (pp. 420-431). San Diego. This document is attached.
These two dissertations provided valuable background information and were the source of some of the attached documents.
Gilman, Donald (2013). Examining the Merger of the NFA and FFA. Auburn University.
Wakefield, Dexter (2001). Impact of the New Farmers of America (NFA) on selected past members: A historical narrative. Purdue University.