Every day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org and Citizen Ed, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer. But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month … February is just the Blackest.
Today, our featured Black Educator is Willis Nathaniel Huggins
Willis Nathaniel Huggins was born in Selma, Alabama in 1886. He was first educated at the Selma Training School. Upon moving to Washington D.C. with his family as part of the Great Migration, Huggins—an excellent student—attended Armstrong High School for colored youth. From there, Huggins attended Columbia University, on a scholarship, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1914.
Huggins would return to Columbia to receive his master’s, attend journalism school at Northwestern and become the first Black Ph.D. from Fordham University.
After graduating from undergrad, Huggins had a long and fruitful career as a Black educator.
He started as the chairman of the History Department at Alabama A&M College where, as a community activist, Huggins started a Black YMCA near the campus as well as protesting against D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” From Alabama, Huggins went to Chicago, teaching at the Wendell Phillips High School and contributing to Black newspapers and as a writer. He would go on to edit his own newspaper in Chicago.
Huggins would move to New York City, where he would become only the sixth Black educator hired by New York City Public Schools (1922). As a New York City Educator, Huggins fought to have an African American studies curriculum passed by the school district for use. He created such a curriculum with the backing of historians Arturo Schomburg and J.A. Rogers. Unfortunately, it was not approved.
Huggins was mentored and befriended both Schomburg and Rogers during his time in New York. Both Rogers and Schomburg admired the persistence that Huggins demonstrated in his failed attempt to persuade the New York City Public School board to add Black history courses to the city’s high school curriculum. Huggins also returned the favor by serving as a leader and mentor of the Blyden Society and the Harlem History Club and mentoring numerous individuals including John Henrik Clark.
Huggins had an established community reputation as an Africana scholar; he was a vocal advocate for incorporating African and African American history in the New York City Public School curriculum; his bookstore was a gathering venue for Black history enthusiasts and self-trained Black historians; Harlem’s legion of street orators also frequented the Blyden Bookstore to read, purchase or simply discuss an assortment of classic and new publications; and Huggins had a following of young Black thinkers who knew him as a teacher and administrator in the night school program at Harlem’s Union High School.
Huggins was the master teacher that all our students deserve; one, not shy about entering the community square to be a mentor and educator for all with ears able to hear.
Willis Nathaniel Huggins; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on William Nathaniel Huggins, visit the following site.