African American History Month: 5 African Americans Who Changed the Course of Education

February is African History Month: a time in America when we reflect on the experience and influence of African Americans in our nation’s history. As a study, an institution, and as a community, education has been molded and shaped by brilliant, passionate minds over time. Today, we want to take a moment to remember just a few of the African Americans who changed the course of education, and reflect on their groundbreaking contributions to teaching and learning.

  1. Booker T. Washington (1865–1915)

Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in 1865, on a farm in Virginia. He founded the Tuskegee Institute in 1881, which trained public school teachers. Booker believed in a strong educational emphasis on morality and personal economic independence. His voice had significant governmental influence at a national level: he was an adviser to both Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Learn more about his life, accomplishments, and philosophy:

2. George Washington Carver (1864–1943)

George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Missouri, and grew up to become a scientist, inventor, and teacher. Due to racial discrimination which initially barred his acceptance to university, Carver’s education and groundbreaking accomplishments in science were largely self-guided: when Carver was finally accepted to study at Iowa State, he became known as a brilliant botanist, and graduated to run the agricultural department at the Tuskegee Institute. He then embarked on a career in invention and agriculture. To learn more about his remarkable life and the obstacles he overcame, click here:

3. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955)

Born into a world of severe discrimination and little educational opportunities because of the color of her skin, Mary McLeod Bethune walked five miles to school every day, and did her homework by candlelight. After graduating from college, Bethune opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls and quickly escalated its enrollment to 250 students. Bethune went on to be an advocate for civil rights at a national level, by founding the National Council of Negro Women in New York and serving as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. Discover more about her educational philosophy, accomplishments, and life story here:

4. W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963)

W.E.B DuBois was one of the prominent influencers in education: a writer, activist, and teacher, DuBois graduated from Harvard University and was a founding officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He published 19 books, became a guiding voice in the education of young African American learners, and an important voice in articulating the African American experience, as well as the advancement of civil rights. He believed in making a comprehensive education available for all students. Learn more about his philosophy, life, and work below:

5. Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914–2005)

A prominent psychologist and educator, Kenneth Bancroft Clark was the first African American president of the American Psychological Association. Clark was instrumental in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954, as his work to uncover the psychological impacts of segregation on children played a crucial role in the case. He worked with his wife to found the Northside Center for Child Development, which promoted the well-being of underprivileged children. Clark emigrated from the Panama Canal Zone to New York in 1919 and passed away in 2005, having become an author, a prominent voice in educational equality, and even the first African American to become a fully-tenured professor at the City College of New York. Discover more about the influence of his life, voice, and work here:

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