Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Matilda V. Mosley Booker (18 September 1887–27 June 1957), educator, was born probably in Halifax County, the daughter of Killis Mosley and Tamara Smith Mosley. She grew up on her father's farm near Clover in Halifax County. With the encouragement of a grandfather who had been a slave, she entered the Thyne Institute, a normal school at Chase City in Mecklenburg County, at about age thirteen. Living with a cousin, Mosley spent four years there, received a teacher's certificate, and then taught near her parents' home for two years. In 1907 she entered the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University) at Ettrick, near Petersburg.

After graduating in 1911, Mosley was hired as principal of the two-teacher Little Bethel School in Henrico County. The county's rural schools for African Americans followed programs first developed by Virginia Estelle Randolph, a local teacher. Randolph's work inspired a northern foundation, the Negro Rural School Fund, Inc., known as the Jeanes Fund, to subsidize salaries across the rural South for African American teachers and supervisors who used a curriculum based on industrial arts such as sewing and agriculture. Recognizing that local people would have to provide most of the money and labor to improve their schools, the Jeanes Fund also expected teachers to follow Randolph's example and act as civic organizers. With her school's other teacher, Mosley organized two School Improvement Leagues that raised money and used it to lay walks, plant flowers, fence the school, and buy pictures for its classroom walls.

With Randolph's encouragement, Mosley in 1913 became the Jeanes Supervisor for Cumberland County's twenty-three schools for blacks. On arriving there in April, she discovered that the schools had already closed after terms of only five months or less. All but two of the school buildings were in a state of disrepair. Mosley spoke at churches and other meeting places throughout the county, exhorting the citizens to support the schools. By 1920 they had responded by building eight new schools and renovating another thirteen. Mosley also encouraged teachers to attend summer institutes to improve their skills, and she raised the money for the higher salaries to which their new skills entitled them.

On 24 May 1916 Mosley married Samuel Glover Booker, a native of Cumberland County. They bought a small farm and cultivated it in their spare time. In 1919 Samuel Booker opened a store and gasoline station, which he operated for fifty-four years. They had no children of their own, but relatives and foster children regularly filled their home. Matilda Mosley Booker also paid for a new house for her parents in Halifax County.

In 1920 Cumberland County abolished the post of Jeanes Supervisor. The reason is undocumented, but Booker's constant campaign for better schools may finally have made white local officials uncomfortable. She quickly secured employment as the Jeanes Supervisor for Mecklenburg County, more than fifty miles south of her Cumberland home, and for the next thirty-five years she commuted weekly between the two counties. The historian of education of African Americans in Mecklenburg declared that Booker had a "remarkable ability to inspire the people to make personal sacrifices for their schools." By 1936 her efforts had resulted in the construction of new buildings for more than half of the county's fifty-six schools for blacks. As in Cumberland County, Booker strove to improve the teaching staff and also raised money for school buses and school dental clinics. She asked for and received an assistant in 1925, and grateful supporters later gave her an automobile to use in her travels.

When Booker arrived, Mecklenburg County had no high school for African Americans. A large committee petitioned the school board in 1923 for a county training school at South Hill, but the board declared that it lacked funds for such an undertaking. Under Booker's leadership, citizens raised money to enlarge an existing school building and, beginning in 1926, provided funds each year to add coursework for another grade. The Mecklenburg County Training School graduated its first class in 1930. Residents of the western part of the county subsequently organized to establish a second high school at Clarksville in 1935. By 1940 a standard nine-month term was the norm for all the county's schools.

Building on successful litigation elsewhere in the state, in 1940 Mecklenburg's black teachers and their lawyer, Oliver W. Hill, of Richmond, requested that the board equalize salaries of white and black teachers. By the beginning of the 1943 school term the board had done so. Continued legal pressures for equalization caused the school board to take on new responsibilities, including the building of new schools and the transporting of students. These changes diminished the Jeanes Supervisor's role. From the late 1940s until her retirement in 1955, Booker distributed educational materials, collected funds for charity, and served the county superintendent as, in effect, his assistant for the education of African Americans.

In 1940 Booker's alma mater, then the Virginia State College for Negroes, presented her with a certificate of merit for her achievements in education. The Virginia Teachers Association honored her retirement by reproducing her portrait on the cover of the March–April 1956 issue of its journal. Matilda V. Mosley Booker had suffered from heart disease for several years when she died in Cumberland County on 27 June 1957. She was buried in the nearby family cemetery.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies and feature articles in Mary Jenness, Twelve Negro Americans (1936), 20–34, Virginia Education Bulletin 37 (1956): 96–97 (cover portrait), Cumberland County, Virginia, and Its People (1983), 79–80 (portrait), and Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Women (1991), 96–98; birth date on death certificate, which gives birthplace as New Brunswick, N.J.; Marriage Register, Cumberland Co. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; information provided by sisters-in-law Annie Harris Booker and Aliase B. Crosby; George B. Lancaster, "The Development of Education for Negroes in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, 1865–1946" (master's thesis, Virginia State College, 1947), 54–82 (quotation on 64).

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by John T. Kneebone.

How to cite this page:
John T. Kneebone,"Matilda V. Mosley Booker (1887–1957)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Booker_Matilda_Mosley, accessed [today's date]).

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