But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.
Eduactivist Caroline LeCount, born in Philadelphia in 1846, personified the spirit of Philadelphian persistence with a passion for Black people. Her passion came honestly. Her father, James LeCount, used his house as a stop along the Underground Railroad. A graduate of the prestigious Institute for Colored Youth, LeCount became a teacher and principal in Philadelphia. She was also active within the Black community; segregated from white society.
She worked at the Ohio Street School for nearly 50 years; the first three as a teacher and then as principal for the remainder of her time. She stood up for her students, as any good principal would. Today, research tells us that Black students perform better when taught by Black teachers. LeCount understood this in her day, recommending one of her teachers to be a principal when a position opened up at the Wilmot Colored School in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, and continuing to push when her recommendation was rejected for being Black, remarking:
Colored children should be taught by their own.
She was not only an advocate for Black children, but she also served as an advocate for Black educators. When challenged by a school board member that Black teachers were inferior and thus the reason for poor Black student performance, LeCount responded that was impossible due to the requirement that aspiring Black teachers had to actually score higher on the teaching entrance exam than whites.
Within the community, LeCount made her presence felt. She was a poet, a gifted orator, storyteller, and a skilled fundraiser. She raised supplies for Union troops during the Civil War and sent clothing to Union general Benjamin Butler. (Butler formed the first Black regiment in the U.S. Army, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard.)
Again, Philadelphia‘s residential areas were segregated, so streetcars were vital for Black residents’ transportation, specifically women, to help aid Union soldiers at hospitals and military camps. In an act of protest, LeCount and others bravely entered streetcars with the knowledge they’d likely be removed or worse, arrested. Nevertheless, LeCount fiercely protested. It paid off; the governor signed a law desegregating streetcars.
When LeCount tested the new statute in Philadelphia, she wasn’t allowed on and called the n-word for her trouble. She filed a complaint in court and that streetcar driver was arrested. All streetcar driving companies were put on notice that discrimination on street cars, at least, was no longer policy.
There is a saying in ‘hood that goes, “There’s no need to get ready when you stay ready.” Ms. Caroline LeCount stayed ready. She’s an example of an educator who made activism a critical part of her praxis. Her students saw their principal as part of the local activist scene; they witness an educator who lived liberation. LeCount knew that educational justice and racial justice were forever intertwined: educational activism at its best.
We must, like LeCount, ensure we are transforming the knowledge gained from literacy, numeracy and other content into applications that extract liberty and justice for all.
Caroline LeCount; a member of our Black Educators’ Hall of Fame. #BlackEducatorsHoF #BlackTeacherPipeline #BlackEducatorPipeline
For more information on Caroline LeCount, visit the following site.
An original version of this piece ran on Philly’s 7th Ward.