Today, our featured Black educator hall of famer is Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood.
Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood was an eduactivist who made her own way for her own children and the Black children of her community. Born in 1828 in New York, Flood was educated in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Flood and her first husband moved to California during the Gold Rush. The couple settled in Sacramento with their young son, before her husband died suddenly.
When Flood tried to enroll her son in public schools, they refused. Flood wasn’t alone. She met many other Black and Brown parents whose children had also been turned away from “public” schools.
Flood opened her own school for her son and the sizable Black population in the city. Her home served as the original school building, later opening the school to Indigenous and Asian American students. Flood served as a teacher and principal.
Within three months, she needed to move to a larger space. She found it in the basement of St. Andrew’s Church. Her students’ ages ranged from 4 to 29.
As always, Black people recognized that education, a human right they were consistently denied, was crucial for liberation. Sacramento Public Schools took notice.
The fabric of their lives needs to be folded into the tapestry of our nation’s history.—African American Women of the Old West
The district accepted Flood’s school as part of the district—the first Black public school in Sacramento. But there was a catch. As a segregated school, they lacked access to tax funding. Despite the racist caveats, Flood and the Black community of Sacramento agreed with the arrangement. Meanwhile, Flood continued to fight for the desegregation of Sacramento’s public schools. She remained a teacher at the school, becoming the first Black teacher in California state history.
Flood fought for equal voting rights, desegregation, equal access to education, and judicial rights for Black people. She participated in the first annual California Colored Convention to speak to these issues. She moved to Oakland with her second husband, becoming one of the first Black families to do so, and ended up doing what she did best, founding another school and designing the curriculum. It was the first Black private school in Oakland. Later, she helped establish the Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, which would house the new school she and her husband created. The Floods’ first son, George, was the first Black baby born in Oakland.
Eventually, Elizabeth’s fight for Black children started getting more policies changed. While previously, there were no laws protecting Black students’ human right to an education, in 1866, the Revised School Law established the right for a public school for Black children in any district with more than 10 Black children. However, if a school could not be established for the Black children, they would only be admitted into a white school if the white parents and school board consented.
Although she died a year later, her efforts to desegregate public schools were not in vain. Her husband continued the fight for educational justice. He served on the Education Committee of the Colored Citizens of California. He got the Oakland School Board to recognize the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and admit children of color.
In 1880, years after Elizabeth’s death, Oakland’s public schools were desegregated, and her children were some of the first Black children to attend California public schools. Flood’s example of perseverance and fortitude is a model for all educators to apply in their work and in their lives.
Although Flood did not see all the fruits of her labor, her role to plant and fight for that fruit is not forgotten and can never be minimized. We may never see all the fruit from the work that we do, but our work in the garden is what we must be focused on—knowing that fruit will be produced because of our diligence.
To paraphrase a Native American saying:
Blessed is she who plants trees under whose shade she will never sit.
Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood, known as the Mother of Desegregated Education; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
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