Caliver, Ambrose (1894-1962), African American teacher, college administrator, and public servant, who was the first black dean of Fisk University.

Caliver was born in Saltsville, Virginia, on February 25, 1894, the son of Ambrose and Cora (Saunders) Caliver. His education in the public schools of Virginia and of Knoxville, Tennessee, was followed by collegiate work at Knoxville College, from which he received a B.A. degree in 1915. Five years later, the University of Wisconsin awarded him an M.A. degree, and in 1930 he received a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University.

His professional experience began in 1916, when he became a high school principal in Rockwood, Tennessee, and an assistant principal of Douglass High School in El Paso, Texas. His first appointment in higher education came in 1917 at Fisk University. At Fisk, Caliver was asked to develop a program of training in manual arts, an area in which he had a special interest. In his opinion, the complete education of the individual involved learning to work with one's hands. Administrative positions at Fisk included publicity director in 1925 and dean of the scholastic department in 1926. His progress through the academic ranks was rapid; within ten years of his arrival at Fisk, he became the first black dean of the university, in 1927.

In 1930 Caliver was appointed to a new position in the Office of Education, as specialist in black education. He was a moving force in the opening of the government cafeteria in the Department of Interior to blacks, as well as in the elimination of the lowercase n in the spelling of Negro. His courage, tact, and perseverance garnered financial and professional support for the many projects in which he was interested.

Caliver's many research activities included bibliographies, new programs, surveys of pressing educational problems, and bulletins on special phases of black education. His important publications include Bibliography on Education of the Negro, Comprising Publications from January, 1928 to December, 1930 (1931) and Background Study of Negro College Students, Rural Elementary Education Among Negroes under Jeanes Supervising Teachers (1933). Other important publications by Caliver include The Education of Negro Teachers (1933); Secondary Education for Negroes (1933); Availability of Education to Negroes in Rural Communities (1936); Fundamentals in the Education of Negroes (1935); and Vocational and Educational Guidance of Negroes (1938). In 1945 Caliver noted that his office had published 19 bulletins; 10 leaflets, pamphlets, or mimeographed circulars; and 36 articles during its 15 years of existence.

Caliver's activities extended beyond his publications. His recommendations resulted in the establishment of the National Advisory Committee on the Education of Negroes (1930-1950), the convening of the National Conference on Fundamental Problems in the Education of Negroes (1934), the National Survey of the Vocational and Educational Guidance of Negroes (1935-1938), and the National Survey of the Higher Education of Negroes (1939-1942). Other major efforts were directed toward adult education and the eradication of illiteracy. His designation in 1946 as director of the Project for Literacy Education resulted in major developments in adult education. Those developments were, first, a determination of the extent of illiteracy and the need for adult education; second, the preparation of instructional materials adapted to adult needs; and third, the training of teachers for adults with literacy below the fourth-grade level. Literacy workshops were held throughout the United States. A special program was developed for the army, through which 86 percent of the trainees considered illiterate were brought up to the fourth-grade level.

Caliver moved up in the Office of Education to specialist in the higher education of blacks (1946), assistant to the U.S. commissioner of education (1950), and chief of the Adult Education Section of the Office of Education (1955). He became increasingly involved in national and international activities. He was appointed as a consultant to the U.S. Displaced Persons Commission (1949), adviser to the United Nations Special Committee on Non-Self-Governing Territories (1950), and member of the Survey Staff of Education in the Virgin Islands (1950). In 1951 he was a member of the committee to explore federal participation in the development of community colleges and part of the U.S. Delegation to the Inter-American Cultural Council. In 1955 he was consultant to the National Commission on Literacy Education of the Adult Education Association.

Caliverís intellectual ability, academic background, and sense of professional responsibility contributed to his important place in American education. His devotion to adult education and his numerous efforts in this field had a significant impact on the national scene. He was in demand as a consultant, speaker, and adviser. Adult education had become his primary concern; his contributions and leadership in adult education were recognized in his election to the presidency of the Adult Education Association of the United States in 1961.

Outstanding contributions made by Caliver to American education, and especially to adult education, were in part a by-product of his mature personality. Caliverís ability to show persons of divergent backgrounds and concerns how to resolve conflicts made him a distinguished leader.

Caliver married Everly Rosalie Rucker in December 1916. He died of a heart attack after a long illness at his home, 1210 Lamont Street NW, Washington, D.C., on January 29, 1962. Funeral services were held on February 2 at Lincoln Temple Congregational Church, 11th and R Streets NW, with interment in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland. He was survived by his widow, his daughter Jewell (Mrs. Richard Terrell), a sister, a brother, two grandchildren, and his son-in-law.

A definitive study on Caliver is Walter G. Daniel and John B. Holden's Ambrose Caliver, Educator and Civil Servant (1966). See also Theresa Wilkins's "Ambrose Caliver: Distinguished Civil Servant" (Journal of Negro History, Spring 1962, pp. 212-4). Obituaries in the Washington Evening Star (January 29, 1962) and the Washington Post (February 2, 1962) have useful information.

From Dictionary of American Negro Biography by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, editors. Copyright © 1982 by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

 

Contributed By:

Carroll L. Miller