Black History Month is a time to celebrate the contributions of people of colour. Throughout October, lots of organisations and institutions will recognise the work and efforts of significant black people across the world, throughout history and alive today. The work of these pioneers can often go overlooked or forgotten which is why Black History Month is an important time for everyone, regardless of race, to learn about the contributions they’ve made to society.
Check out these 8 fantastic figures who have all contributed to the field of Education and we believe deserve some recognition.
Oliver Brown launched the famous class-action lawsuit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1951. Following his daughter Linda being denied entrance to the town’s all-white schools, Oliver Brown claimed that schools for black children were not of equal quality and continued segregation violated the 14th amendment, promising equal protection for all people. In May 1954, it was concluded that segregated schools are “inherently unequal” and it is believed this judgement inspired further activity which led to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
As the founder of the Village Foundation, Bobby William Austin was an American writer who launched a number of initiatives to “repair the breach” that many young black men had with the rest of society. Since 1997, Austin and the Village Foundation have promoted the “Give a Book A Try” programme, which encourages reading and literacy among young African-American men. In 2014, Bobby William Austin was honoured by the Harvard Graduate School of Education reflecting on his groundbreaking reports and studies.
Born in 1897, Inez Beverly Prosser was one of 11 children. She graduated high school and college at the top of her class and went on to a promising teaching career. Prosser was one of the first black women to ever receive a PhD, and used hers in Education Psychology to study the effects of segregated schooling. Whilst completing her own studies, Ines Beverly Prosser also established a fund that allowed all 10 of her siblings to complete high school and 6 of them to finish college.
Mary McLeod Bethune was a civil rights activist and passionate education pioneer. As one of the founders of the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, Bethune created a school that gave the opportunity for education to many young black women. When it became the Bethune-Cookman College, it was one of the few places in the USA where African Americans could get a degree. She gave advice to several US presidents on the welfare of children and minority affairs, and Mary’s contribution was immortalised when she appeared on a stamp in 1985.
Known as the “godfather of multiculturalism”, Stuart Hall is one of the UK’s leading political campaigners and academic pioneers. Moving from Jamaica in 1951, Hall is an Oxford graduate who helped to found The New Left Review, an incredibly influential academic journal. In addition to co-founding the cultural studies course at the University of Birmingham, the first in Britain, Stuart Hall’s own studies into low and high brow culture interpreted identity, race and sexuality as part of society and politics.
Named after the ship that took her to the US as a child, Phillis Wheatley was a slave in the 18th Century. Unusually, she was taught to read and write and began writing poetry at age 14. By the age of 21, Phillis has moved to the UK and in less than a year, published her first book. As the first ever African-American poet to be published, and despite it being 1773, Wheatley proved that women and slaves could be intelligent and amazingly talented.
As the author to the best-selling Noughts & Crosses series, Malorie Blackman wanted to “make reading irresistible” for young people and works with various organisations to encourage reading and literacy in children of all ages, and promotes the enjoyment of short stories, graphic novels and other types of literature. In 2013, Blackman was chosen as the eighth Children’s Laureate, and the first ever black person to take the role.
Gus John is a writer and community activist originally from the West Indies. After moving to the UK at age 19 to study at Oxford, he became engaged with several groups that promoted the development and empowerment of marginalised communities. John collaborated on “Because They’re Black”, a book that won the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize in 1972 for its contribution to racial harmony in Britain. In 1989 Gus John became the first black person to hold the position of Director of Education in Hackney and now acts as an educational consultant across Europe, the Caribbean and Africa.
There are, of course, countless more people of colour who have done amazing work across the world to influence and improve education. If you’d like to learn more about Black History Month, visit their website to get further information and resources.