Celebrate Black History Month by Honoring Influential Black Educators with Your Students
Date Posted: 2/04/2022
The U.S. observes Black History Month every February to celebrate the extensive contributions and accomplishments of the Black community and honor the many adversities and triumphs it has experienced throughout history.
This year, in addition to providing links to Black History Month resources for your classroom, we highlight four Black educators who inspired generations of youth, promoted learning equality, and helped reshape our nation’s education system.
Septima Poinsette Clark
Clark, a former slave, was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1898. When she began her career, Charleston didn’t hire Black educators, so she worked with the NAACP to petition the city to change its policies. Clark taught in schools across South Carolina for more than 30 years and later worked with citizenship schools to teach basic math and literacy skills to African Americans wanting to exercise their right to vote. She instructed them on filling out voting registration forms, the skills needed to pass the required test, and the rights and duties of U.S. citizenship.
Clark also organized social justice workshops to politically empower African Americans to enact positive change in their communities. In 1955, one of these workshops helped inspire civil right activist Rosa Parks to initiate the Montgomery Bus Boycott protest in Alabama.
Fanny Jackson Coppin
Coppin was born into slavery and had to go to great lengths to obtain an education. She excelled in her studies and not only attended the prestigious Oberlin College but also became the first African American pupil-teacher in its history. She later became the head principal of the Institute of Colored Youth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Coppin was a teacher, principal, missionary, and lifelong advocate for female higher education. She is a model of academic excellence, and though her life was tragically cut short, she overcame incredible difficulties to become an inspiration for Black youth and a champion of educational equality.
Gordon, now 100 years old, is a professor of psychology and esteemed scholar. His professional career has spanned more than six decades as an educator, minister, author, and clinical psychologist in a variety of positions, such as professor at both Yale University and Teachers College at Columbia.
He is well known for his work with Black youth and focus on trying to close historic academic achievement gaps. He is a founding father of the federal Head Start preschool program and the Institute for Urban Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. His research on the harmful effects of segregation in schools has had a tremendous influence on both our education system and social policy.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Born in South Carolina in 1875, Bethune was a lifelong educator and the daughter of former slaves. As a child, she attended a boarding school for African American children and would later open one of her own, the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls—eventually growing to become Bethune-Cookman College in 1929.
Bethune was also an extremely influential civil rights leader who led voter registration drives for women. In 1935, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and the following year, President Franklin Roosevelt named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. She later became president of the NAACP and was the only African American woman at the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945.
These resources are full of information and activities on Black history for your classroom: