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4 African-Americans Who Forever Changed Academia

History always has something to tell us, and we can always learn from it. With Black History Month fast approaching, we want to take a moment to appreciate some of the best Black educational leaders throughout America’s history. The following four individuals have completely changed the way our country educates African-American students.

Booker T. Washington

ORG XMIT: NY114 FILE – This 1894 file photo shows Booker T. Washington. The famous ex-slave was a boy when Emancipation came to his Virginia plantation. He had been called only “Booker” until enrolling in school. “When the teacher asked me what my full name was, I calmly told him, ‘Booker Washington,’” he wrote in his autobiography, “Up from Slavery.” George Washington’s name is inseparable from America, and not only from the nation’s history. It identifies countless streets, buildings, mountains, bridges, monuments, cities _ and people. In a puzzling twist, most of these people are black. The 2000 U.S. Census counted 163,036 people with the surname Washington. Ninety percent of them were African-American, a far higher black percentage than for any other common name. (AP Photo/Library of Congress, File)

One of the most well-known Black educational leaders, Booker T. Washington was born into Virginia slavery in the mid-1850s. As he grew up, he put himself through school and ultimately became a teacher. While he initially taught at his old grade-school for a short time, Washington went on to teach at Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia. Shortly after receiving his degree, he began petitioning for a “colored” school in Alabama. In 1881, the Alabama legislature approved of giving $2,000 a year to put toward the school’s opening and future supplies. Washington proceeded to open the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, which is now known as Tuskegee University.

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Under Washington’s leadership, the institute went on to become one of the leading schools in the country. He taught his students that if African-Americans wanted the white community to respect and accept them – if they wanted the respect and acceptance that they deserved – they needed to work hard, obtain financial independence, and further their cultural advancement.

Maxine Smith

Maxine Smith was a civil rights activist, pioneer, executive secretary, and state government employee. She had received more than 160 awards for her efforts toward educational equality and civil rights. Some of her most impressive awards are the Leadership Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Bill of Rights Award, and the Whitney H. Young Jr. Award from the National Education Association.

However, despite her numerous awards, Smith is best known for her role in helping the NAACP organize the desegregation of Memphis public schools in 1960.

Nathan Hare

In 1961, Nathan Hare became an assistant professor of sociology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. However, he didn’t stay long. Five years later, the university president announced that he wanted the student body to be 60 percent white by the end of the decade. This declaration didn’t sit well with Hare, and he was fired in 1967 for speaking out against the plan.

A year after being fired from Howard University, Hare became a faculty member at San Francisco State College, which is now known as San Francisco State University. While there, he became the program coordinator for the country’s first Black Studies program. When the university’s administration attempted to cut the program, Hare protested with students for five months before leaving to found the Black Think Tank.

Katherine Butler Jones

In 1961, when Katherine Butler Jones went to buy a home with her husband in Newton, Massachusetts, she realized that only two realtors in the area would show a house to a Black family. This lit a fire in her, and she eventually became an active participant in the Newton Fair Housing and Equal Rights Committee as a result. Jones didn’t stop there. In 1964, she founded and directed an after-school program called the Roxbury/Newton Freedom School. She then went on to found the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities (METCO) two years later. The METCO program still runs to this day and helps colored students from Boston enroll in Newton schools.

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