Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Educators and Libraries: Isaac Fisher (1877-1957)

Isaac Fisher (1877-1957), a native of East Carroll Parish, Louisiana and the son of former slaves, was the valedictorian of Tuskegee Institute's (Tuskegee University) graduating class of 1898. Fisher was also the first African American to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded the fellowship in 1926.

In addition to being a Guggenheim Fellow, Fisher was an educator, speaker, writer, editor, and conference organizer. He was often called upon to deliver speeches and keynote addresses at graduations, programs, conventions, and other events. Some of Fisher's speeches include:

  • "Will America Absorb the Negro?" -- Delivered in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1893 to raise money for the train fare he needed to travel to Tuskegee, Alabama to attend Tuskegee Institute (Tuskegee University).
  •  "Has the Negro Kept Faith?" -- Delivered at the 1910 centennial celebration of the life of abolitionist Theodore Parker.
  • "The Unfinished Task." Delivered in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1934 at Crispus Attucks High School.

Fisher served as editor of The Southern Workman (published by Hampton Institute (now Hampton University)), The Fisk University News (published by Fisk University), and The Negro Farmer (published by Tuskegee Institute). In addition, Fisher once served as Tuskegee Institute's official news correspondent and had the honor of interviewing George Washington Carver (ca. 1864?-1943), a professor of agriculture at the institute and the 1923 winner of the Spingarn Medal.

As an educator, Fisher taught at the Schofield School in Aiken, South Carolina; served as principal of the Swayne Public School in Montgomery, Alabama; was principal of the Branch Normal College (University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in Pine Bluff, Arkansas; taught journalism and argumentation (debate) at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; and headed the Department of Research and Publications at Florida A & M College (Florida A & M University) in Tallahassee, Florida.

His connection with libraries:

  • While a student at Tuskegee Institute, Isaac Fisher built his own private library with the assistance of Margaret Murray Washington (1865-1925) the wife of Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington (1856-1915).

  • In 1904, seeking to improve access to books and other information sources for students at Branch Normal College, Isaac Fisher made a request to Andrew Carnegie for funds to build a library for the college. However, Fisher's request was denied.  The reason given: "not a good business investment to give a library to a school which constructed only three buildings -- a classroom building, a girls' dormitory, and an industrial shop -- in twenty-nine years" (from page 1 of the Wednesday, June 6, 1906 issue of the Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, a local newspaper).

  • On Friday, June 1, 1934, Isaac Fisher gave his speech "The Unfinished Task" at the graduation ceremony for Crispus Attucks High School, a high school for African Americans in Indianapolis, Indiana (the school is now integrated).  Housed inside the high school was the Crispus Attucks Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, one of three library branches located in predominately African American neighborhoods in Indianapolis. The Crispus Attucks Branch Library was in operation from 1927-1959.

Fisher passed away on Friday, August 23, 1957 in Minnesota.

Sources: "200 Attucks Graduates in Commencement Exercises ; Prof. Isaac Fisher Speaks." Indianapolis Recorder (Indianapolis, Ind.) 2 June 1934: 1, 3. Print. ; "Attucks Class Gets Diplomas: Need of Providing for Material Things Stressed by Virginian." Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Ind.) 2 June 1934: 12. Print. ; "Branch Normal: Closing Exercises of State Colored School One of Greatest Successes in History of the Institution --- The Great Work Accomplished by Principal Isaac Fisher." Pine Bluff Daily Graphic (Pine Bluff, Ark.) 6 June 1906: 1. Print. ; "Isaac Fisher Again Winner: Colored Man Awarded Prize in Magazine Contest : Nine Thousand Competed." Indianapolis Recorder (Indianapolis, Ind.) 19 Sept. 1914: 1, 4. Print. ; "Mr. Fisher Wins Again" The Advocate (Charleston, W. Va.) 24 Feb. 1910: 3. Print. ; "Changes Made at Hampton." The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pa.) 7 July 1934: 11. Print. ; "Hamptonians in N.Y. Hear Isaac Fisher on Gen. Armstrong: Founder's Day Program Draws Large Audience in Harlem." New York Age (New York, N.Y.) 2 Feb. 1935: 2. Print. ; "Hampton Commencement." New York Age (New York, N.Y.) 7 June 1917: 7. Print. ; "Moton Sketches Progress of Negroes on Ever of Tuskegee Anniversary." The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) 12 Apr. 1931: 10. Print. ; "Fisher Hits 'Making the News'; Press Friendly, Cooperative When Program is Genuine." Indianapolis Recorder (Indianapolis, Ind.) 21 Aug. 1937: 13. Print. ; "Fisher Writes Moving Picture Drama." Indianapolis Recorder (Indianapolis, Ind.) 16 Oct. 1915: 4. Print. "Commencement Programs Announced by Manual, Broad Ripple, and Attucks." Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Ind.) 29 May 1934: 6. Print. ; Wheeler, Elizabeth L. "Isaac Fisher: The Frustrations of a Negro Educator at Branch Normal College, 1902-1911." The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 41.1 (Spring 1982): 3-50. Print.