Black Leaders in Education

Feb 18, 2011

Today, children of all races can attend any public school in the United States, and the practice of racial discrimination in admissions to private institutions is officially prohibited. Unfortunately, it wasn't always this way. It took a long struggle for racial equality to be established in education. Learn about some of the individuals who led the way.

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By Sarah Wright

Bishop Daniel A. Payne

February 24, 1811 - November 2, 1893

Daniel Payne

Born a free man in Charleston, South Carolina, Daniel Payne was of African, European and Native American descent. Largely self-taught, Bishop Payne did ultimately attend the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He became the first black president of an American institution of higher learning in 1863, when he was chosen to lead Wilberforce University in Ohio.

Booker T. Washington

April 5, 1856 - November 14, 1915

Booker T Washington

A former slave, Booker Washington attended school after emancipation and became the leader of Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, a postsecondary school for African American students. Washington reached out to philanthropists to secure funding for colleges educating black students in the South; he believed that providing vocational education to African Americans could help individuals earn a living and advance in society.

W.E.B. Du Bois

February 23, 1868 - August 27, 1963

W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois was born a free man in Massachusetts. He attended school while supporting himself and his invalid mother. A good student, Du Bois believed that education was an important key to success not only for himself, but for all African Americans. During his lifetime, Du Bois helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and advocated for African Americans to receive a well-rounded liberal arts education.

Frederick D. Patterson

October 10, 1901 - April 26, 1988

Patterson served as the president of the Tuskeegee Institute and founded the United Negro College Fund in 1944. This fundraising body still exists today, and raises money for higher ed scholarships for black students. The Fund also provides financial awards for historically black colleges and universities in the United States.

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The Little Rock Nine

little rock nine escort

Melba Beals, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Thelma Mothershed, Terrence Roberts and Jefferson Thomas were high school students living in Little Rock, Arkansas, when the NAACP enrolled them in an all-white school in 1957. Though the official legal end of segregation had come years earlier in 1954, Little Rock Central High still had no black students. The nine students' first attempt to enter the school was blocked by Arkansas National Guard troops. The images that resulted from this incident drew national attention and prompted President Eisenhower to dispatch U.S. soldiers to escort the nine into the school building (pictured above).

Vivian Malone and James Hood

George Wallace blocking Malone and Hood

Vivian Malone and James Hood were the first two African American students to enroll at the University of Alabama. On June 11, 1963, the two college students arrived on campus to pay their fees; Alabama Governor George Wallace attempted to physically block Malone and Hood from entering the building (pictured above). President Kennedy nationalized the Alabama National Guard in order to prevent it from following Wallace's orders, and the Malone and Hood were able to register.

In 1965, Hood graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management. Hood did not complete undergrad studies at the University of Alabama, but he did eventually return to the university as a doctoral student, graduating with a Ph.D. in 1997.

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