5 Important Black Figures Who Started As Educators

Teachers, professors and all types of educators serve a vital role in society. Some of those educators have gone on to be major influences in the American history, including Black Americans. They have touched many fields and positions, from science and technology to the arts and politics. In honor of World Teachers' day, we're celebrating five prominent Black visionaries who began their careers as educators.

Toni Morrison

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Toni Morrison is celebrated for her epic works of fiction with leading Black characters. She was also the first Black woman to win a Nobel prize in 1993. Morrison's life is filled with acclaim and honors, but her career began as a professor at Texas State University in 1955. Two years later, she would teach at Howard University until 1963. Morrison entered the literary editing world in 1967.

Charlotte Forten Grimké

Charlotte Forten Grimké's diaries were invaluable records, following her life as a free Black woman during the 1800s. She was also an active force in the abolitionist movement and a prolific educator. After she graduated from Salem Normal School (now Salem State University) in 1856, Grimké became a teacher at the all-white Epes Grammar School in Salem. Grimké would hold various teaching positions before helping in programs aimed at educating freed slaves.

Dr. Rick Kittles

This geneticist gained notoriety in the 1990s for his pioneering work into tracing African American ancestry through DNA testing. Dr. Rick Kittles also studied prostate cancer in Black men and health disparities among the Black community. Before going on to make groundbreaking work, Kittle started his career as a high school teacher at various New York and Washington D.C. schools.

Mary McLeod Bethune

The South Carolina-native was a longtime activist for Black people throughout her life and even gave her expertise to a few U.S. presidents. Her most notable role was being the advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on minority affairs. Bethune's activism began when she entered the teaching workforce in the late 1890s and stayed an educator for almost a decade. She believed education will pave the way to "racial advancement."

Kelly Miller

Kelly Miller was an esteemed mathematician and writer, and he was the first Black man to attend John Hopkins University. Miller contributed a lot to African American publications and and civil rights discussions, but he served as an educator for years. He was a math teacher at a Washington D.C. high school and then became a math professor at Howard University. He also introduced the sociology curriculum to the historically-Black institution.

Photo: Getty Images

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