Meet the first Black woman to join the Screen Actors’ Guild: Teacher Mary Elizabeth Vroman

220px-Jet_Vroman_October_13_1955_coverMany talented educators can also claim fame as accomplished authors. This is true of Mary Elizabeth Vroman, an elementary school teacher who was also the author of several books and short stories, including “See How They Run,” an award-winning short story that became the basis for a movie entitled Bright Road.

Mary was born circa 1924 in Buffalo, New York, and was raised in Antigua in the British West Indies. Like three generations of women educators in her family before her, Mary attended Alabama State Teachers College, now known as Alabama State University, in Montgomery, Alabama, where she graduated in 1949. After her graduation, Mary accepted her first teaching position at an elementary school in rural Alabama. She later taught in Chicago and New York. Her teaching career spanned twenty years.

Mary published her first short story, “See How They Run,” in the June, 1951, issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. The story, based on her experiences in the classroom, generated five hundred enthusiastic letters from readers. Like most of her works, the story depicted the challenges of poverty and disadvantage. The plot revolves around a young, idealistic teacher who encourages her students to escape their poverty through education, and compares the forty-three third graders in the story to the blind mice in the familiar children’s nursery rhyme. Mary describes the teacher’s struggle to provide academic, financial, and emotional support for her students and their families so that they can achieve success.┬áThe piece earned the coveted Christopher Award in 1952 for its humanitarian quality. It was reprinted in the July, 1952, issue of Ebony.

Next, Mary served as a technical adviser and assistant screenwriter for the 1953 film version of the story. The title of the piece was changed to Bright Road, and starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Mary’s work on the film earned her admission to the Screen Actors Guild; she was their first African American woman member.

Vroman’s “See How They Run” tells the story of a young, idealistic teacher encouraging her students to escape from their impoverished environment through education. Comparing the 43 third graders in the story to the blind mice in the familiar nursery rhyme, Vroman details the teacher’s struggle to provide academic, financial, and emotional support for them and their families so that they can achieve success was published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in June, 1951. The piece earned the 1952 Christopher Award, and it was subsequently made into a 1953 film entitled Bright Road. Her work on the film earned her admittance to the Screen Writers Guild, the first African American woman to become a member of the distinguished organization.

Mary was married to Brooklyn dentist Dr. Oliver M. Harper. Sadly, Mary Elizabeth Vroman passed away on April 29, 1967, from complications following surgery. She was only 42 years old.