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AMERICAN COLLEGE OF SOFIA ~ THE BLACK'S REPORT

Authors: Floyd Black and Cyril Black; translated and edited by Nedyalka Chakalova

 

History of American College of Sofia

American College of Sofia (ACS) is one of the oldest American educational institutions outside the United States. It traces its roots directly to a school for boys opened in Philipopolis by American missionaries for the 1860-61 school year. These missionaries, led by Dr. James F. Clarke, opened a school for girls at Stara Zagora three years later and those two schools grew into the American College.

In 1871, the two schools were moved to Samokov where they flourished for the next half century. The teachers were primarily American missionaries. Dr. Clarke, who was buried in the Sofia cemetery in 1916, devoted his entire adult life to them. Funds for their operation were provided by the American Mission Boards of the Congregational Church. Hundreds of Bulgarian students attended, many going on to become ministers or social workers, others to become government officials and teachers.

After World War I, the Mission Boards decided to end their operations in Bulgaria and to close the schools at Samokov. Alumni and friends of the schools in Bulgaria, including some high ranking government officials, protested this decision, as did many of those in the United States who had been donating funds for their operation. In 1926, a decision was made to turn the schools over to a new organization - Sofia American Schools, Inc. (SAS). As a non-profit educational corporation, SAS performed similar work for other American schools including Robert College and American University in Beirut.

The new organization was created for the sole purpose of providing education for Bulgaria youths and agreed to merge the two schools and build a new campus at a site already selected in Simeonovo. It's first act was to employ Dr. Floyd H. Black who came to Bulgaria in the summer of 1926 with wife, Zarafinka Kirova, and their young son Cyril. Construction of the new campus began immediately and was sufficiently complete by the summer of 1928 that 119 girls were transferred from Samokov that fall. They were joined by 63 boys a year later and by the remaining 130 boys in the spring of 1930. Funds for the buildings on the new campus came from the sale of the property in Samokov, gifts from Americans, and a donation by the Bulgarian Parliament of a tract of timber which was sold for about $50,000. Construction continued throughout the 1930s. By the end of the decade the facilities were sufficient to house 500 boarding students and many of the staff. Students provided some of the labor, making furniture for the College in a workshop, digging a swimming pool, and planting hundreds of trees. The Carnegie Endowment for World Peace provided funds to create the best English language library in the Balkans.

When World War II began, the number of non-Bulgarian teachers dwindled and only the Blacks and a handful of other Americans were on campus when Bulgaria declared war on the United States in December 1941. The Bulgarian government requested that the Americans not leave the country but rather continue to operate the College. They did so until the next fall when the Nazi Commander in Sofia demanded that the Americans leave within 48 hours. As the train carrying them to Istanbul paused in a suburban Sofia station, scores of alumni waiting on the platform sang, in English, the College song and other American songs which they had learned.

After the war, Dr. Black was refused entry to the country and in 1947 the campus, school equipment, and the library were confiscated by the Bulgarian Government. School equipment was turned over the Ministry of Education; library books were dispersed or destroyed (some remain even now in the National Library and others have been returned to the College by the Rila Monastery). The campus became the headquarters of the Bulgarian State Police, which occupied some of the buildings and constructed others.

The fall of the Communist regime in Bulgaria in November, 1989, opened the possibility that the American College of Sofia would resume operations. In the spring of 1992, after persistent requests by alumni of the College, the American Ambassadors to Bulgaria, and leaders of the first reform Bulgarian government, Sofia American Schools, Inc., sent Dr. Roger Whitaker to Sofia to reopen the College. He arrived with no teachers, no buildings, no books or classroom supplies, and no students.

When Dr. Whitaker announced that the College would enroll that fall the 50 boys and 50 girls scoring highest on an entrance examination, about 3,000 seventh grade students registered to take it. He recruited a small faculty and administrative staff, and in September 1992 the College was reopened, 50 years after the last American teachers had left the campus.

Dr. Whitaker was given access to one building on the old campus less than six weeks before the College was to open. The new staff members, joined by alumni and friends of the College in Sofia, spent those weeks cleaning and restoring that building. The government has since leased to the College most, but not all, of the buildings constructed before the war and a portion of the old campus. The Police Academy still occupies much of the property. Since 1992 Sofia American Schools, Inc. has spent more than $2,000,000 on restoration, teachers and equipment for the College while USAID has provided more than $2,500,000 to renovate the old campus buildings and to buy additional equipment.

The goals of the reopened College are the same as were its goals in the 1930s: to provide Bulgarian youths with the best possible education, including fluency in English, and to instill in them high standards of morality and integrity. Since the reopening, the College has enrolled well over 2,000 students. In the current school year, it has 676 students, 26 of whom are internationals. Since 1997, the year the first class graduated from the College, more than 1400 students have taken American College diplomas. The College has regained the reputation it held in the 1930s as one of the premier secondary schools in the Balkans and its graduates are now eagerly recruited by prestigious universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and throughout Europe.

In October, 2010, the American College of Sofia will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding.

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Dr. Floyd Henson Black (1888-1983)

The biography of Dr. Floyd Black, the President of Robert College and the American College for Girls in Istanbul, Turkey, between 1942-1955 was written by his son Cyril E. Black, upon the death of his father. Cyril Black was the eminent historian of Russia and founder of the comparative modernization series in Princeton University in the United States after the Second World War. The unpublished manuscript which was meant for the members of the Black family and friends, is an interesting account of the fruitful career of Dr. Black which began in Sofia College in Bulgaria, and continued in Robert College and the American College for Girls in Istanbul, Turkey.

Bogazici University which is a Turkish State University that has inherited the educational legacy of Robert College since 1971, has received the unpublished manuscript about Dr. Floyd Black which was typed by his son and donated to the Culture Heritage Museum in Bogazici University.

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Prof. Cyril Edwin Black (1916-1989)

Cyril E. Black, a history professor who was member of the Princeton University faculty for 50 years, died of congestive heart failure yesterday at the Princeton Medical Center, N. J. Professor Black was Emeritus James S. McDonnell Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton. He had been Director of the school's Center of International Studies from 1968 to 1985.

A native of Dryson City, N. C., he spent his boyhood in Turkey and Bulgaria. During World War II, he served with the State Department in Washington and Eastern Europe. As a Foreign Service Auxiliary Officer, he was an aide to the United States Political Adviser on the Allied Control Commission in Bulgaria from 1944 to 1945. In the fall of 1945, he was adviser to the Etherege Mission sent to Bulgaria, Rumania and the Soviet Union to report on the carrying out of the Yalta Declaration. He, along with other officials, was later charged with espionage by the Bulgarian Government, a charge he dismissed as a "complete fabrication".

Prof. Cyril Black was author of several books, most recently "Understanding Soviet Politics: Perspective of Russian History", published in 1986.

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Addendum: There are a couple of remarks that we wish to make on this particular topic. Our archive have been holding recently some materials on the American College of Sofia (ACS), which we endeavored to augment and verify. These are an incomplete collection of "BOR Yearbook" published by the college alumni in the interwar years (i.e., we shall comment on that in another issue of our booklist).

Another acquisition has been the book at hand from Prof. Nedyalka Chakalova, which is "de facto" the Black's report on the ACS and narrative on the years spent by Dr. Floyd Black and his son Cyril E. Black in Bulgaria. The report from F. Black was published at limited edition in 1958. The memoir from C. Black has also been published by Bogazici University, Turkey. Both materials which are in English language have been translated and edited by the Bulgarian side. An introduction and scattered notes have been provided by the publisher.

For continuity of our presentation, we recommend to an interested reader to consult another item in our booklist cf., "Nikolai Mizov. Protestantism in Bulgarian Lands. Sofia, 1972". On the alternative let us give our reprimand on Protestantism in Bulgaria, sui genera.

The motto we have met on several occasions when we researched the theme was outstandingly, "Protestantism is more Arian, than Semitic". How shall we understand this in the light of our present Bulgarian realities? Are we still, Bulgarians, the backward folks that are referred with despise from the Turks some 100 years ago. Or we are a peasant and agrarian nation at the brink of the Industrial Revolution, cited by Protestants in the 1920s and 1930s. Either we are still in the Communist compound that suffocated the country for some 50 years in row. Brooding on those issues is essential, not as a Scholastic opponent to the Congregationalists college, but rather becoming a rational partner to an ally that have a different opinion in mind. The author of these lines is an equal opportunity writer. Comments are meant to those that are aware, at least, what community thinking is. No personal grounds to any foreign person in this country.

So as not to become too pessimistic or otherwise peculiarly suspicious to circles that bear the culture and spirit of Americanism, notwithstanding are some reminiscences from the near past. The premises where the American College of Sofia were lodged have changed ownership several times. Before World War II this area was recreation resort in the outskirts of the capital. Then it became a blank spot on the Sofia-city map for 50 years, when the Police Academy at Ministry of Interior sited there its quarters. Beneficiary changes occurred in the 1990s and capital investments started in the locust on a grand scale. Today the place could be hardly found without a tour guide and those are the impediments of modern civilization, ditto.

 

Pictures 1, 2 & 3: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). Dr. Floyd Black (1888-1983), president of the "American College of Sofia" from 1926 to 1942.

 

(ii). Dr. Floyd Black and the administrative staff of ACS, arrival at the American Legacy in Istanbul after expulsion from Bulgaria (2 October 1942).

 

(iii). Last aerial photo-snap of the premises at ACS, before the whole site became property of Ministry of Interior (1945).

 

 

Copyright 2010 by the author.