Milla Granson, was born Lily Ann Granderson. Enslaved in Virginia in 1816, her life became one of incredible dedication and heroism to our people, at the risk of her own welfare.
As a child, she was taught to read and write by the children of her captor while enslaved in Kentucky. Once that captor died, she was sold to another captor in Mississippi—torture compared to her enslavement in Kentucky.
“O, how I longed to die!” she told a friend, “and sometimes I thought I would die from such cruel whippings upon my bared body.”
However, it was in Mississippi where Granson defied the extreme risk and became a teacher to liberate her people. She was granted a transfer from the fields to the house. From there, Granson established a “midnight” school for the enslaved where she taught her people how to read and write.
Classes would run from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. in a dark alleyway building where windows and doors were shut tight to avoid the harm inflicted upon them if caught. You’ve heard of night schools, but this was a liberatory night school.
Mississippi, like many other states, prohibited the teaching of Black people how to read and write.
Procedure for the school went as follows: Granson would accept 12 students at a time, graduate them after they were literate and then accept another group of secret students.
Because of Granson’s teaching, several of her students were able to write their own “travel passes” and escaped to freedom. Granson taught hundreds of Black people to read. She knew #BlackLiteracy was a crucial part of liberation. She was far ahead of many today who don’t prioritize literacy of our children.
For seven years, the school lasted without word reaching the authorities. Even if word had leaked, Granson found a loophole that meant she wouldn’t be penalized. According to the law, no white person or free Black person could teach an enslaved person anything, but there was a loophole. The rule didn’t apply to an enslaved person teaching another enslaved person.
During the Civil War, Union troops arrived in Natchez, Mississippi, to find Granson equipped to teach enslaved persons how to read and write. After the war, Granson taught newly freed men and women in Freedmen schools as a member of the American Missionary Association.
When you hear pernicious lies about Black children, including the words of dismissive educators, know that they have never been true. The truth is that those individuals who believe these false, harmful narratives, don’t care to teach Black children, nor do they care if they learn.
Black people have risked life and limb to learn for their liberation. It is no different today. The importance of learning was in the face and heart of the enslaved and the oppressed. Black heroes led the way in establishing public education in the South and other places.
Conscious, righteous educators serve a crucial role in enlightening students, engaging them in their education, inspiring them with content and character development. We all can learn from one of our favorite freedom fighters of all time, the beyond courageous and impactful Milla Granson.
Milla Granson (Lily Ann Granderson): a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Milla Granson, visit the following site.