5 Famous Black Educators That Changed History

February is Black History Month! Let’s mark this monumental month by honoring black educators that have paved the way in education, making a mighty mark on America.

Whether you take note for personal use or share with your students, read on to learn about five famous African American teachers.

Edmund Gordon

1. Dr. Edmund Gordon

One of the founders of the beloved Head Start program that many of our students have utilized today, Dr. Gordon honed in on closing the academic achievement gap for children who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. His goal wasn’t just to provide a better education for young students, but improve communities and family involvement across the board, helping those have educational opportunities that would otherwise never be possible without the program.

Teaching tip:
When sharing Dr. Gordon and his contributions to America, consider informing students about the benefits of Head Start and preschool programs, and having them write a mock persuasive letter to a governing body, encouraging them to maintain this program.


Fanny Jackson Coppin

2. Fanny Jackson Coppin

The first African American principal, Fanny Jackson Coppin was born a slave. At the age of 12, her aunt purchased her freedom and she worked as a servant for the author, George Henry Calvert. It was in this environment that she took any and every opportunity to study and learn. Her hard work paid off, as she was accepted into Oberlin College, where both women and African Americans were welcome. In the evenings, she taught African Americans how to read and write for free. After becoming a teacher and a principal, she became a superintendent and defied all odds that women could learn and teach mathematics, Greek, and Latin. 

Teaching tip:
When sharing Ms. Coppins achievements and contributions to America, have students set 3 goals for themselves and design a folder, where they can add to this portfolio throughout the remainder of their year, allowing them to track the progress of their goals. 


Rita Pierson

3. Rita Pierson

Ms. Pierson is famously known for her Ted Talks, in which she championed the black, youth male community. She was an elementary, junior high, and special education teacher, as well as a counselor and assistant administrator. She wanted to show all of her students that they all mattered and were supported-especially in school. 

Teaching tip:
When sharing Rita Pierson with students, ask students to draw a picture of their favorite teacher and list 5-10 adjectives that describe them. Have the hand deliver this unexpected treat to their favorite educator. 


Carlotta Walls LaNier

4. Carlotta Walls LaNier

Ms. LaNier was the youngest of nine courageous students known as the Little Rock Nine, who integrated into an Arkansas high school in the midst of the American Civil Rights Movement. She was the first African American woman to walk across a stage to receive her high school diploma. She worked as a program administrator for teens later in her life and has dedicated her life to ensuring all students have equal access to educational rights. 

Teaching tip:
When sharing about Carlotta Walls LaNier with your students, ask them to share a time when they needed to be brave. Ask them to empathize with how Ms. LaNier felt attending school with others who may have not wanted her to be there. 

Charlotte Forten Grimke

5. Charlotte Forten Grimke

The first black teacher to work at the Penn School in South Carolina, Ms. Grimke helped educate newly freed slaves after the Civil War. She worked hard to recruit other black educators later in her life, along with the US Treasury Department, helping to ensure diversity among teachers, which could benefit all students. She was a talented poet and she grew up among a family of abolitionists who fought for fair treatment and respect. 

Teaching tip:
When sharing about Ms. Grimke with students, ask them to write a poem that has a theme about embracing differences, and acceptance.

While there have been many advancements in the diversity and inclusiveness of the education system over the past few decades, there is still a lot of work to be done. February is the perfect time to share the stories of these groundbreaking Black educators, but also to highlight where necessary the need for continuing to listen to, support, and amplify Black voices everywhere. 

Check out our Black History Month hub for more resources and classroom support.



About the author

Heather Aulisio


About Heather

Heather Aulisio (B.S., M.S. Ed.) is a 5th grade math and science teacher. She has been teaching in a public school setting for 19 years. Heather has previously taught third… Read more

loading gif