TAF@Saghalie Humanities teacher Jennifer Giuffre comes from a long line of passionate Black educators taking a stand both inside and outside of the classroom. Black educators do exist and have existed for centuries in America. Admittedly, their ranks took a hit after Brown v Board of Education (which we will explore later), which is why the Martinez Fellowship is so important to TAF. Giving Washington educators the support they need to get into teaching and stay in the profession is huge for all students. 

So, whether you have had many or no Black educators, here are a few of the stories of the many who have shaped students throughout American history.

1. Maria Miller Stewart 1803-1879

Maria Miller Stewart is most famous for her strong prose against both racism and sexism and for being the first woman in America to talk about politics before an audience of both women and men in 1833. But, as a widow, she was also a career educator. Her career as a speaker was short due to strong opposition, but her impact was wide. She used her classrooms to train the next generation of Black woman political thinkers and public speakers in both the mechanics and art of elocution. 

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha Jones

Oh, ye daughters of Africa, awake! Awake! Arise! No longer sleep nor slumber, but distinguish yourselves.

Maria Miller Stewart

2. Gabriel Burdett 1829-1914

Before the Civil War, Gabriel Burdett was an enslaved minister in Kentucky. During the Civil War, he joined with American Missionary Association volunteers from the Union to preach, and later, to teach. He helped to establish the Camp Nelson School for Colored Soldiers and taught reading and writing there until he was sent into combat for the Union army. After Emancipation, he returned to establish and lead the Camp Nelson school which by then was called Ariel Academy.  He was later the first Black trustee of Berea College, the first integrated college in the South. Eventually, he stepped down and moved his family West to Kansas due to his vocal stance as a Republican drawing violence against him. 

Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps by Any Murrell Taylor

3. Mary Mccleod Bethune 1875-1955

Mrs. Bethune was an educator and a political organizer. Out of her 16 siblings, she was chosen to get an education. She used that education to open Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls which is now Bethune-Cookman University. She also organized Black women voters in Daytona (against direct Klan violence) to ensure that the city would get its first Black high school. Later, she moved to Washington D.C. establishing the National Council of Negro Women and advising President Franklin D Roosevelt as a federal appointee making her the highest-ranking Black woman in the government at the time. From that position, she helped other Black woman to attain federal appointments also.

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha Jones

4. Brown v Board of Education 1954

The Supreme Court case that declared school segregation unconstitutional, and cost America a lot of qualified Black teachers and educators. Basically, integration was not a two-way street. Black students were bused and integrated into white schools while their teachers and principals were not. They, and their educational institutions, were assumed to be inferior even though many Black educators were more highly qualified than their white counterparts in the days of Brown v Board. 

Jim Crow’s Pink Slip: The Untold Story of Black Principal and Teacher Leadership by Leslie T. Fenwick

The effects of not protecting and valuing Black educators and administrators are still felt to this day. Which brings us back to Jennifer Guiffre. She tells her students “I’m an activist first and then a teacher” following in the footsteps of generations of Black educators. Where she could not find examples of Black educators in her own life, she tells of being inspired by the past (which is her focus as a history teacher) and the words of Fredrick Douglass.

Yet, serving in this dual role can be exhausting. Ms. Guiffre said it like this “we as teachers of color, we get in there because we want to help our students of color, right? And so sometimes it can take an emotional drain because we feel like we have to help all of them.” 

The exhaustion of being an activist in a mostly white career space is why the Martinez fellowship is so important.

The fellowship provides the resources and community necessary for teachers of color to move out of a burnout-inducing survival state that may drive them out of teaching. Instead, it encourages our teachers to thrive within a community of other teachers passionate about liberation in education! (One example of Martinez fellow support is the Convening, which will get a spotlight on the blog next month) 

Below, Ms. Guiffre shares a little about how the Martinez Fellowship has made a difference for her as a teacher and why the fellowship matters.