DRAWING THE LINE: Segregation in the NC Extension Service


The North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service was, and is, an organization based out of North Carolina State University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University.  The Extension Service was responsible for training agents to go out into rural communities in order to teach farming families better farming practices and help the families become more self-sufficient.

The North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service was segregated along two different lines throughout the greater part of the twentieth century. This meant that not all people were allowed to work side by side as equals. 4-H Club MembersAdditionally, not all people were able to receive the same kinds of services and training from the Extension Service agents.  Women were not allowed to participate in the same activities as men, and African Americans were not allowed to participate as equals to whites.  

Like many other public and private services during the years of Jim Crow laws in the South, the Extension Service operated as a racially segregated operation. That meant that African American and white people were not treated equally as agents or farmers receiving training. In general, white agents assisted white families, and African-American agents assisted African-American families. Additionally, the African American branch of the Extension Service operated out of North Carolina A&T, a historically black college, because NC State University was a racially segregated institution at the time.

Besides just being segregated by race, the Extension Service was also segregated by gender. Female and male agents were required to teach very different skill sets to those that they helped. Men focused on farming and agricultural techniques, while women were delegated to roles such as canning vegetables, baking, and sewing clothes. These gender-based roles were then passed on to the youth participating in 4-H programs. Rarely did men and women participate in the same types of Extension Service activities. 

The Extension Service was designed to change the eating activities of rural North Carolinians into patterns that university researchers and government officials thought was more productive and healthy. Often, communities were resistant to what they saw as efforts of middle-class reformers to change one of their most basic daily activities: eating. However, patterns of segregation meant that, before 1965, agents usually worked with audiences of the same race and gender, thus creating points of commonality beyond class.  This exhibit will discuss in more detail what the North Carolina Extension Service was and what it did between the 1910s and the 1960s.  Additionally, it will describe how segregation affected participants in the Extension Service differently, and how segregation affected the way that all North Carolinians consume and produce food.