Black Leadership in Educational Equity

This February, we reflect on Black leaders – both past and present – who’ve profoundly shaped public policy and championed equity in education.

From pioneering civil rights activism to bringing critical attention to systemic racism and working to influence inclusive policies in our country, Black trailblazers set powerful examples that continue to inspire equity movements today. 

Read on to learn more about Black leaders making strides in their communities.

Origin of Black History Month

Black History Month came about in 1926 when historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson founded “Negro History Week.” Its beginnings centered on educating students and celebrating Black history in schools.

Negro History Week was used by Black educators “not only to lionize individuals and narratives, but also to teach students about racial progress, and as well as shared and collective responsibility. They developed assignments and curriculum to provide students with the tools to succeed.” (The Association for the Study of African American Life and History)

We’re honored to celebrate other leaders alongside Woodson whose work has created the foundation for educational equity and greater inclusion in our school systems.

Historical Pioneers

Mary McLeod Bethune’s work in the early 1900s as an educator and civil rights activist shaped educational policy for generations of Black students. She founded the National Council of Negro Women and served as an advocate for Black civil rights, becoming a special advisor on minority affairs to President Franklin D. Roosevelt – the first Black woman appointed to this role. Bethune’s legacy lives on with her vocal support of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, her work in integrating public schools, her efforts to open up the military to Black women and founding UNCF to give greater opportunity to Black college students in our country.

Whitney Young was a prominent civil rights leader and educator throughout the 1950-60s who worked for the advancement of Black educational opportunities in America. As the Executive Director of the National Urban League, he brought better coursework and training programs to schools to bridge the racial gap between minority students and “white-collared careers,” which were previously unreachable by minorities. His efforts paved the way for greater opportunities for Black students.

Dr. Edmund Gordon is a pioneer in the field of Black students’ education rights. He championed the cause of equal access to education for students of color and was instrumental in opening the doors to quality education for all children. In the 1960s, Dr. Gordon played a key role in establishing the Head Start program, providing low-income families greater access to safe, healthy, educational opportunities for their young children. Throughout his career, he worked tirelessly to bring attention to the “achievement gap” in our country and to ensure that Black students had the same opportunities to succeed. At 101 years old, his efforts continue in working with prominent graduate institutions to educate future teachers on inclusive practices.

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