Cleo Water Blackburn was the Director of Flanner House from 1936 until his retirement in 1975. During his time there, he was also the President of Jarvis Christian College for eleven years.
Blackburn was the grandson of a former slave. He was born September 27, 1909, in Port Gibson, Mississippi. In $7.19 in his pocket. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Butler University School of Religion in Indianapolis, Indiana, and a master’s degree from Fisk University of Nashville, Tennessee. He also studied for a year at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and was a Rosenwald Fellow at Indiana University.
After completing his studies, he served as the head of the Department of Sociology and Economics at Knoxville College in Tennessee, and as the head of the Department of Records and Research at Tuskegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University. Then in 1935, while still working for the institute, Blackburn was offered the position of Superintendent of the Indianapolis social service agency, Flanner House. Blackburn was the Director of Flanner House from 1936 until his retirement in 1975. During his time there, he was also the President of Jarvis Christian College for eleven years.
Blackburn was involved in many clubs and organizations. He was also the founder and CEO for The Fundamental Board of Education. Blackburn was an ordained minister with The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and also served as pastor of the Lea Avenue Christian Church for nine months.
In 1948 Cleo W. Blackburn founded the Board for Fundamental Education (BFE). The primary goal of the organization was to teach individuals the necessary skills to perform a job and to match them with job openings. The Board for Fundamental Education focused on applying the power of the education process to community needs and resources to help people live more useful, productive, and satisfying lives.
The BFE had six main objectives.
- To strengthen the programs of existing demonstration centers in fundamental education.
- The addition of new demonstration centers.
- The development of definite relationships with associate and affiliate universities,orientation and involvement of staff.
- Training leaders at demonstration centers, as well as community leaders and other cooperating organizations and agencies working at the community level.
- The beginning of the development of teaching and instructional materials in fundamental education.
- Adopt a five-year budget to raise $860,000.00.
In 1954 BFE was the only African American organization founded by an African American to be granted a national charter by U.S. Congress.