Today, our featured Black Educator is Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett.
Bassett, born in 1833 in Connecticut, came from a long line of activists and freedom fighters. His grandfather secured his freedom as a participant in the Revolutionary War. His family was politically active; both Bassett’s father and grandfather were elected as Negro Governors.
Bassett was an exceptional scholar who excelled in mathematics and communicated with clarity and precision, making contributions to his local newspaper, The Derby Journal. He attended Wilbraham Academy in Massachusetts, followed by college, where he became the Connecticut Teachers College’s first Black student—and first Black graduate in 1853.
After graduation, Bassett began teaching at the Whiting School, a school for Black children, earning $300 per year. After Bassett’s first year, the school board’s report noted that Bassett had “transformed 40 or 50 thoughtless, reckless, tardy and reluctant youngsters into intelligent ambitious, well-disciplined and well-behaved students.” How many of our students are still maliciously described as such?
This was a critical period for Bassett. While teaching at the school, located in New Haven, Bassett met and married his wife, and befriended Frederick Douglass, becoming a committed fierce eduactivist.
From there, Bassett became a teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia (formerly the African Institute, today it’s known as Cheyney University); doubling his salary. He would later become principal of the school and it was there that Bassett’s friendship with Frederick Douglass matured into a deep partnership for Black liberation.
Not only did Bassett work on abolitionist efforts, but he also helped to recruit Black men, students and alumni, to fight for the Union cause during the Civil War. A letter he wrote to W.E.B. DuBois years later can be found here.
For his activism, Bassett was rewarded with a diplomatic post; ambassador (or diplomat as it was called) to Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Bassett was the first Black person in America to be named a diplomat to a foreign country. Bassett would also serve as Consul General to Haiti and as Frederick Douglass’ special assistant when Douglass was appointed ambassador to Hispaniola in 1889.
Bassett is an example of an educator who leveraged his knowledge and schools with his passion for Black people’s liberation to make a difference. Undoubtably, this spurred curiosity in his students, empowering them. Educators must recognize that Black students, like Bassett, wish to leverage their knowledge for a purpose; that purpose being Black liberation.
It is up to educators to serve as a bridge for Black students to reach their destination on their journey to liberate. Bassett did just that.
Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Ebenezer Bassett, visit the following site.