More than ever, it is so important to highlight the achievements of black educators in the teaching profession. Not only is it crucial to give them long-overdue recognition, but it also helps to remind us of how far the educational system has come – and far we have left to go. As educators, we should be at the forefront of acknowledging how much the black community has endured being an active part of the American education system. Here are twelve black educators who made a huge impact on history:

1. Rita Pierson

Rita Pierson gave one of the most powerful Ted Talks on education – “Every Child Needs a Champion” has become a motto for countless educators. Additionally, she led workshops on the importance of educating young African American boys.

2. Carlotta Walls LaNier

As the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine, Carlotta Walls LaNier braved harassment-and even the bombing of her home- to be one of the first black students to attend Central High School in 1960. She wrote a book about the experience: A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.  She was also president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation which aimed to continue to create equal educational opportunities for all students. 

Carlotta Walls LaNier wrote a book about the experience: A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.

3. Charlotte Forten Grimke 

Charlotte Forten Grimke was the first black teacher to work at the Penn School in South Carolina, a school established to help educate newly freed black slaves after the Civil War. Later, she worked with the US Treasury Department to help recruit black educators. 

Charlotte Forten Grimke Quote_Black Educators

4. Kelly Miller

As the first black graduate student in Mathematics, Kelly Miller came to understand the importance of education to help foster strong black leaders. He then became a dean at Howard University and an active civil rights activist where he continued to push for access to higher education for all black Americans. 

Kelly Miller_Black educators

5. Fanny Jackson Coppin

Fanny Jackson Coppin was the first African American principal. Born as a slave, she once wrote to Frederick Douglas,

“I feel sometimes like a person to whom in childhood was entrusted some sacred flame…This is the desire to see my race lifted out of the mire of ignorance, weakness and degradation; no longer to sit in obscure corners and devour the scraps of knowledge which his superiors flung at him. I want to see him crowned with strength and dignity; adorned with the enduring grace of intellectual attainments.”

Letter from Fanny Jackson to Frederick Douglass, 30 March 1876.
Letter from Fanny Jackson to Frederick Douglass, 30 March 1876. Via: The Lion of Anacostia

6. Inez Beverly Prosser

The first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology, Inez Beverly Prosser did extensive research on the effect of segregated schools versus non-segregated schools on African American students. She was passionate about finding the best way to foster and educate young black students. She was also one of the first to take a vested interest in the mental health of African American children subjected to racism.

7. Dr. Jeanne L. Noble

A professor of education, Dr. Jeanne L. Noble was active in trying to desegregate her hometown of Augusta, GA.  She was appointed by three presidents (Johnson, Nixon and Ford) to serve on educational commissions.

8. Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune became one of the most important civil rights leaders of the twentieth century. She was a lifelong educator- working as a teacher before founding Bethune-Cookman college which set educational standards for today’s black colleges. She went on to become the highest-ranking African American woman in government when President Franklin Roosevelt named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

Mary McLeod Bethune_Black educators

9. Septima Poinsette Clark

When she first began her teaching career, Septima Poinsette Clark was frustrated that Charleston did not hire black educators. She worked with the NCAAP to petition the city to change its policies. She went on to help run citizenship schools which taught African Americans basic literacy and math so they could pass the test required to register to vote. 

Septima Poinsette Clark_Black Educators

10. Marva Collins

Marva Collins started Westside Preparatory School in 1975 where she earned a reputation for teaching “unteachable” students. She trained thousands of educators on her techniques which focused heavily on the Socratic method. In 2004, she received the National Humanities Medal. 

11. Edmund Gordon

As a founder of the federal Head Start program, Dr. Edmund Gordon was one of the first educators to focus on closing the academic achievement gap. He also founded the Institute for Urban Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

12. Charles Hamilton Houston

Charles Hamilton Houston was a dean at Howard University Law School and argued cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, creating a legal foundation for the historic Brown v. Board of Educationdecision. He was involved in just about every civil rights case that was argued in front of the supreme court from 1930 and 1954, earning him the nickname “The Man Who Killed Jim Crowe.”

Charles Hamilton Houston_Black educators
Fall 2017 Bulletin Issue Images.

These leaders prove teachers have the power to change history. How will you make your mark?

12 Black Educators Who Changed History That We Should All Know About