Lessons Learned From NFA Day Celebrations (4/9/2021)

So what did you do to celebrate New Farmers of America (NFA) Week this week? It might be interesting to see what NFA chapters actually did to celebrate NFA week. Was it much different than what we do today to celebrate National FFA week? In this Footnote, we will look at suggestions for conducting NFA day and check out some past NFA week celebrations.

In 1949, W. T. Johnson wrote an article in The Agricultural Education Magazine titled “Planning a National N.F.A. Day.” This later became a week-long event. He urged NFA chapters to do more than memorialize Booker T. Washington. Johnson encouraged chapters to develop activities that (1949, p. 238) “…emphasize realistically the principles for which the great leader stood.”

Johnson suggested (1949, p. 238):

…the program planners should broaden their scope and include some of the home and community activities that Dr. Washington stressed, keeping in mind that the purpose of the program is to enlist the sympathy and cooperation of the public by presenting interesting facts concerning the founder of vocational education for Negroes’ and the work of the New Farmers of America which carry out his vision of accomplishments.

A three-step approach to the NFA day celebration was endorsed by Johnson:

  1. Describe the life and Work of Booker T. Washington and his contributions to the ideals of vocational education.
  2. Emphasize how vocational agriculture has contributed to the local community.
  3. Identify outstanding achievements of local NFA chapters.

Johnson indicated the chapter program of activities should be the foundation for NFA day. Months before April 5 (the date on which NFA Day was celebrated – Washington’s birthday), NFA members should clean up their yards, beautify the home, repair screens, paint the home, build or repair steps, and improve the home toilet facilities [Curators Note: see the Friday Footnote about how Tuskegee’s Movable School did these things).

In addition to beautifying the community, Johnson also suggested a vigorous public relations campaign be conducted. Articles should be published in local newspapers, posters should be placed in public places, announcements should be made in schools, churches, and in other public meetings, and requests should be made to leading citizens and ministers asking them to emphasize the program.

Johnson also suggested that awards be given to students for their improvement efforts and included a sample scorecard in his article along with suggestions as to who should do the judging.

Finally, a special program should be conducted on April 5 and the general public should be invited. There should be opening ceremonies performed by the NFA officers, a prayer from a local minister, having the audience sing a spiritual song, having the NFA quartette sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” (the favorite song of Booker T. Washington), a testimony from a local farmer about the importance and impact of vocational agriculture, a presentation from a recognized speaker, the announcement of student award winners and presentation of awards, the introduction of special guests, remarks from the school principal, and then the NFA closing ceremonies.

Johnson also suggested spirituals should be sung because Booker T. Washington was a lover of spirituals. A special effort should be made to give the NFA program over the local radio station.

The following article from the Raleigh (NC) News and Observer (April 3, 1961, p. 23) provides a nice overview of NFA Week. It should be noted that the W. T. Johnson referenced in the article is the same person who wrote the article about NFA Day in The Agricultural Education Magazine 22 years earlier.


A Sampling of NFA Day Programs

In Caldwell Parish (Louisiana) NFA Day was coupled with Negro Health Week in 1940. During the week the NFA members destroyed mosquito breeding places, cleaned their homes, and engaged in other personal health-related activities. On Thursday they beautified the school campus. On Friday, April 5 there was a special chapel program at Union Central High School which consisted of singing and quotations about health attributed to Booker T. Washington. Several faculty members made “interesting talks” (The Caldwell Watchman, April 5, 1940). [Curators Note: Booker T. Washington founded the National Negro Health Week]

The NFA members of Jordan Sellars High School in Burlington, NC were featured in a radio program over WPTF on NFA Day in 1940. The program centered around the success and accomplishments of vocational education in the public schools of North Carolina and Alamance County. The Glee Club sang newly arranged negro spirituals by the chapter advisor (The Daily Times-News, Burlington, NC, May 2, 1940).

An attorney, J. S. Butts, was the featured speaker for the Stratton, West Virginia NFA Day in 1948. He spoke about how tilling of the soil is a very old art but new discoveries, mechanization, and a more scientific understanding of the fundamentals of farming have led to changes in farming. His talk was concluded with a brief history of Booker T. Washington. Mr. Butts had heard Washington speak on several occasions when he was a student at Howard University. Butts stated (The Raleigh Register (Beckley, WV, April 11, 1948, p. 16) “the philosophy taught by Booker T. years ago was not accepted wholly by the people, but the same philosophy is very much sought after today by both races.” The NFA quartelle supplied music.

In 1952 the Carver High Chapter (Eutaw, AL) of the NFA celebrated NFA Day with a special program in the school auditorium. The program consisted of the history of the NFA, the life and works of Booker T. Washington, and selections by the NFA Quintet. There was also a reading of the NFA Creed and The Man With the Hoe. The keynote speaker was the principal of the Industrial High School of Tuscaloosa.

In 1953 the Chambers County (Alabama) Training School had a school assembly to celebrate NFA Day. Some of the activities included a presentation about Booker T. Washington, an explanation of the NFA emblem, a presentation about the NFA creed, the achievements of the chapter, and the crowning of Miss NFA. Several people gave remarks. See the article below from The Lafayette Sun, April 22, 1953.

Lindsey Weatherspoon, a professor of Animal Husbandry at Prairie View A&M, spoke at the Dunbar High School (Waco, TX) NFA Celebration in 1955. The event was held in the school gymnasium. One student gave a report on chapter achievements and another student spoke about the life of Booker T. Washington. The Dunbar chorus sang several songs and Archie Harris was presented an award as the best all-around student and outstanding NFA boy (Waco Tribune Herald, May 8, 1955).

The student council president of Hampton Institute, Paul Williams, was the NFA week speaker at Thomas C. Walker High School (Gloucester County, VA) in 1958. Mr. Williams encouraged the students to think about the future and to prepare themselves to assume their responsibilities in life. Four students also made presentations:

  • Roger Holmes  – the objectives and accomplishments of the chapter
  • Raymond Thompson – the life and work of Booker T. Washington
  • Reginald Stokes – Why NFA appeals to boys
  • Waldron Foster – My experiences at the NFA Camp in Chesterfield County

The event occurred as a school assembly in the auditorium (Daily Press, Newport News, VA, April 20, 1958).

The Conetoe NFA (NC) sponsored a lyceum, a poster contest about NFA week open to all students at the school, and a public speaking contest as part of their NFA week celebration in 1958. See the article below for details (Rocky Mount Telegram, April 1, 1958). [Curators note: The pronunciation of Conetoe is not Cone-Toe; it is Co-Neat-A]

The governor of Alabama issued a proclamation in 1958 declaring April 5-11 as National NFA Week (Tuskegee Herald, April 8, 1958). For more details see the article below.

In 1962 the J.S. Clark High School in Opelousas, Louisiana took to heart Johnson’s suggestion to have a recognized speaker for their NFA Day Celebration. They had Dr. Felton Clark, President of Southern University speak. The public was invited to the 8 PM program. The life and work of Booker T. Washington was the main event, but five outstanding farmers and their wives were also honored. Earlier in the week, over 400 persons attended the annual NFA, New Homemakers of America and industrial arts department father-son-mother-daughter banquet (Daily World, Opelousas, Louisiana, April 1, 1962).

Many more examples of NFA day/week activities could be given, but you get the idea of what happened during NFA Day/Week.

Concluding Remarks

NFA day (later NFA Week) was a high point of the year for NFA chapters. While each celebration was different, there is one theme that ran through all of them – and that was the life and work of Booker T. Washington. Since the NFA is now a part of the FFA, it would be appropriate for FFA chapters to recognize Booker T. Washington, either in April on his birthday or during FFA week.

The NFA Day event often involved outside speakers, music, and the involvement of NFA members in the program. Frequently banquets were held, students were recognized, and Miss NFA was crowned. More often than not there was a school assembly. There are some lessons we can learn by looking at past NFA Day celebrations.