HIS 240 - Researching American History (Fall 2018)

Respected or Discriminated? African American Staff at Rollins in the First Part of the 20th Century

Susan “Susie” Weasley , Rollins Decoration of Honor, 1948

In 1948 Susan “Susie” Weasley became the first African American to receive the Decoration of Honor at Rollins College, a prestigious award given to very few individuals over the years. (1) Susie was loved by both faculty and students at Rollins and her very public recognition was supported by President Hamilton Holt himself. Susie was a housemaid at Rollins’ Cloverleaf Cottage between 1924 and 1949 who labored alongside a significant number of other African American staff members in what might be described as menial positions of “invisible” labor.  For example, in the 1935-36 school year Rollins employed thirty-six African American staff members, and thirty-two of them worked as “buildings and grounds helpers,” positions of both indoor and outdoor manual labor. (2) To an outsider observing Susie’s public honor, it might appear that the African American staff at Rollins were treated relatively well for the early 20th century. Yet a deeper analysis of archival materials from the College archives reveals various historical factors that placed African American staff at the College in extremely difficult socio-economic conditions.

African Americans in Winter Park at that time were geographically restricted in their employment options, only able to work places within a short commute from the historically black community of Hannibal Square on the westside of town. In addition, African Americans experienced job discrimination and faced a lack of access to skilled labor positions that might pay more, therein limiting their professional and economic upward mobility. Finally, African Americans had to combat the cultural stereotype of the doting household “mammy” and dutiful servant, a long-rooted social convention in the South that demeaned and trivialized black individuals working in the service industry. Overall, the prejudice and economic issues of the early 20th century kept African American staff from positions of power, and from working in skilled trades on Rollins College Campus. It would be many years before they received equal treatment. (3)

  1. Decoration of Honor, June 2, 1938, Susie Wesley (1 folder). Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.
  2. Helpers in the Buildings and Grounds, October 13, 1934. African American Staff 1930’s and 1971 (1 folder). Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.
  3. “H.E.W Investigated Rollins,” The Sandspur (Winter Park, FL), January 29, 1971.

— Margaret

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