Meet Samuel James Evans. Around the time this picture was taken, he had been a teacher in Florida for 5 years. He first taught in Quincy, Florida, teaching there for a year, before moving on to Ormond, Florida. By 1940 he was teaching in Daytona Beach. Despite the nice weather in Daytona, Samuel was ready by 1941 to move on to a school in Seminole County.
Samuel applied to work at Crooms Academy, which by 1941 was a school with a strong reputation for excellence. Samuel’s application tells us an interesting story of what Seminole County asked of Black teachers.
We learn from Samuel’s work history that by his second year teaching he received a raise. His pay jumped from $520 a year to $640 annually. He preferred to teach woodworking, mechanical drawing, painting, and mathematics. However, he could teach any general science topic, if needed.
The application also tells us that Samuel was a graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College (now: Florida A&M University), receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1936.
The application continued and asked questions that we now find odd or even invasive. It asked if he could sing (he could not) and if he played the piano (also, no). Under “Church Membership,” Samuel wrote that he was a Methodist, while for “Success as a disciplinarian,” he simply wrote “Good.”
The man in the photo above, our Samuel James Evans, was 5’8”, 160 pounds. He had a wife and a baby who was almost two years old at home. Interestingly, we find at the bottom of Samuel’s application that home for him at this moment was a hotel in Long Island, New York.
Samuel strikes us as an itinerant, seeking the best situation he could find in his short five years as a teacher. The archive gives us whispers from the past that spark more questions: why was Samuel in New York? What, to him, did Crooms Academy offer which would give him “better facilities and opportunities,” as he himself wrote? Finally, did he get the job?
Getting a job as a Black teacher in 1940s Seminole County was a more difficult task than for white teachers. Only a few years later, Joseph Nathaniel Crooms, founder and principal of Crooms Academy, noted some of the disparities between white and Black schools in Seminole County. There were 12 white schools and 12 Black schools by 1949 in Seminole County. The white schools had 101 teachers, while the Black schools had only 67. The white schools had marginally more students in total, but not nearly enough to justify the 34 teacher deficit the Black schools were under. Crooms was well-placed to know all this, having served as the President of District 4, Florida State Teachers Association, since at least 1944.
At this time, we do not know the fate of Samuel James Evans. His kind eyes and professional photo are all that remain of him aside from what he wrote in his application. One hopes he found a place to settle, got to teach, and that no one made him play the piano.
From top left, clockwise: a two page letter from A. Hogan Brewer to J. N. Crooms regarding the state of education in Florida, April 1944; three pages from a pamphlet which celebrated the building of Crooms Academy Memorial Library. The back of this pamphlet is the source of J. N. Crooms’ sketch of Seminole County’s educational statistics, discussed above. May, 1949. Source: J. N. Crooms Collection, John G. Riley House Archives, Tallahassee Community College Library, Tallahassee, Florida.