Philadelphia, 1867. A 21-year-old Black woman was recently appointed principal of a new public school on a small alley in the Seventh Ward. This woman is Caroline Le Count, and she will go on to build the largest Philadelphia public school with an all Black student body, and an all Black teaching staff. But Le Count’s successful experiment will be short lived, and we are still living with the consequences of that fallout today.
In the years following the Civil War, Philadelphia invested in its public school system and developed new types of schools. We might recognize some of these today. They included “normal” schools for training teachers, industrial schools for the skilled trades, select magnet high schools, and night schools for adults.
Pioneering African-American educators saw an opportunity to create good public schools for the Black community as well. They knew that all Black schools were needed in order to create jobs for Black teachers, who could not teach at all white, or mixed schools. The educator activist, Caroline Le Count, dedicated her career to establishing one of these all Black schools, and to fiercely defending and advocating for her fellow Black, public school teachers. This is the second of two episodes that looks at Le Count’s legacy in public education and what we can learn from it.
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