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 Edmonia G. Highgate.
Edmonia Goodelle Highgate was the daughter of freed slaves and an eduactivist on behalf of Black people during the Reconstruction Era of the United States. Born in June of 1844 in upstate New York, Highgate dedicated her life to supporting the education of Black people.
At the age of seventeen, Highgate received a teaching certificate from Syracuse Board of Education upon her graduation from Syracuse High School. With that, she was able to secure a teaching position in Montrose, Pennsylvania to work with the Pennsylvania Freedmen’s Relief Association. At age nineteen, Highgate became the principal of an all-Black school in Binghamton, New York.
In 1864, Highgate was one of only two women to address the National Convention of Colored Men for the suffrage of Black men, where she was praised by Frederick Douglass. Highgate went on to dedicate her efforts to educating recently freed Black men, by way of establishing such a school in Darlington, Maryland where she, her sister and mother worked to support Black education. Highgate, along with her sister, then moved to New Orleans to educate Black people there.
A recent tweet advocated that folks refrain from calling children in schools’ scholars because we (educators) only use it in settings where students are of historically marginalized and oppressed groups. Highgate referred to her students as scholars; students historically marginalized and oppressed, but certainly not incapable, as expressed in this 1866 letter:
PERHAPS YOU MAY CARE TO KNOW OF MY WORK HERE FOR THE FREED PEOPLE… THE LORD BLESSED ME AND I HAVE A VERY INTERESTING AND CONSTANTLY GROWING DAY SCHOOL, A NIGHT SCHOOL, AND, A GLORIOUS SABBATH SCHOOL OF NEAR ONE HUNDRED SCHOLARS. THE SCHOOL IS UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE FREEDMAN’S BUREAU, YET IT IS WHOLLY SELF-SUPPORTING. THE MAJORITY OF MY PUPILS COME FROM PLANTATIONS, THREE, FOUR AND EVEN EIGHT MILES DISTANT. SO ANXIOUS ARE THEY TO LEARN THAT THEY WALK THESE DISTANCES SO EARLY IN THE MORNING AS NEVER TO BE TARDY. EVERY SCHOLAR BUYS HIS OWN BOOK AND SLATE, ETC… MOST OF THEM ARE TRYING TO BUY A HOME OF THEIR OWN. MANY OF THEM OWN A LITTLE LAND ON WHICH THEY WORK NIGHTS IN FAVORABLE WEATHER AND SABBATHS FOR THEMSELVES. THEY OWN COWS AND HORSES, BESIDES THEIR RAISING POULTRY.
Again, while these recently freed individuals were historically oppressed and marginalized, they were not incapable. Not only did they extend maximum effort to learn and achieve, but they took the same attitude in all they did. They simply needed a teacher.
Highgate served as what they needed. She is an example of an educator not swayed by the conditions of her students. While she was able to acknowledge their circumstances, she never allowed those circumstances to dictate what students were capable of.
Edmonia Highgate; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Edmonia G. Highgate, visit the following site.