White supremacy is a colonial tragedy that is still (sadly) existent in the world. What has happened in the USA is evidence of the persistent racism in mindsets and also in the law book. The light to this dark tunnel is the numerous protests by people from all walks of life in re-realisation to fight for equality. There is a realisation to revamp our education system and teach every child about the importance of equality and beauty of harmony.
As we all continue to be a part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and learn more about rooted racism and eradicate it in our own ways, let’s take a flashback to the historic black educators in the USA, who used their voice to through the most powerful medium – education. They broke ceilings and propelled a change in society.
LaNier was the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, which aimed to create equal educational opportunities for students of colour. She was the first black student to attend Central High School in 1960, an experience that she has documented in a book ‘A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School’.
She was an African-American educator, poet, and anti-slavery activist. She taught freed black slaves during the Civil War and later became the first black teacher to teach at South Carolina’s Penn School. She worked with the US Treasury Department to help recruit black educators. Forten was an anti-slavery activist and was influential in the Civil Right Movement. Her poetry got published in The Liberator and Anglo African magazines.
He was a mathematician, sociologist, author, a newspaper columnist, and an activist. He was the first black graduate student in Mathematics and the first black man to attend Johns Hopkins University. As a dean at the Howard University, active Civil Rights Activist, and an author, he spoke and pushed for access to higher education for the black community.
She was the first African American principal, who advocated higher education for women. Escaping slavery at the age of 12, she indulged in self-taught education until she enrolled herself in Oberlin College, which was the first college that accepted both black and female students. During her time as principal, she was promoted to the Superintendent position by the board of education, which made her the first African American Superintendent of a school district in the United States.
She was the first African-American woman to earn a PhD in Psychology and worked in educational psychology. She was also one of the first to initiate interest in the mental health of African-American children, who were subjected to racism. Prosser did extensive research on the effect of segregated schools versus non-segregated schools on African-American students and submitted various arguments like the pros and cons of segregated schools.
She was one of the most prominent educator-activists. She served as a teacher all her life and founded the Bethine-Cookman College, which played an important role in setting educational standards for today’s black colleges. She served as the president of the National Association of Colored Women and initiated the National Council of Negro Women.
From being instrumental in filing petitions against universities for not hiring black educators to marching the movement to earn voting rights for African-Americans, Clark was a fighter for literacy and basic civil rights for marginalised communities. For her participation in movements, she was referred to as the ‘Mother of the Movement’ by Martin Luther King. She is also known to establish "Citizenship Schools" to empower the black community.
A professor of psychology, Dr Edmund has had a huge influence on the psychological development of children on colour in America. He founded the Federal Head Start program and the Institute for Urban Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. All of his contributions made him one of the first educators to focus on bridging the academic achievement gap.
He was a lawyer and an educator, who served as a dean at the Howard University Law School. He is remembered for being instrumental arguing several civil rights cases before the US Supreme Court. His contribution laid the legal groundwork for the US Supreme Court to rule out the racial segregation in public schools and create the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The educator and writer is a holder of a lot of firsts to her name. She was the first African-American to study and write about the experiences of female African-Americans in college, to become a board member of the Girls Scout of the USA, to serve the U.S. government's Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, and to receive tenure as a professor at the New York University. She was an active participant in trying to desegregate her hometown of Augusta, GA, in the early 1960s and she was also appointed by three presidents of the USA, namely Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, to serve on educational commissions.
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