Nebraska’s Lucy Gamble, the first African American teacher in Omaha

Many talented schoolteachers can also be applauded for their historic firsts. One such teacher is Lucinda (Lucy) Gamble, an elementary school teacher who was the first African American to be hired to work in Omaha public schools.

Lucy was born Lucinda Anneford Gamble on September 9, 1875, in Lincoln, Nebraska, the oldest of eight children of her parents, William and Evaline Gamble. The family moved to Omaha when she was five years old. As an elementary student, Lucy was first enrolled in the Old Dodge School, but later transferred to Pacific School. She graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1893.

Following her graduation from high school, Lucy enrolled in Omaha Normal School, a college which trained future teachers. She completed her two-year course of study there in 1895. “My teacher in the Normal school tried very hard to discourage me from going to the school as she said that I never would secure employment in the school system,” Lucy once recalled. But she must have been a very impressive candidate, because within three months of her graduation, Lucy was offered a position at her former elementary school, the Old Dodge School. With this appointment, Lucy became Omaha’s first African American school teacher. Later Lucy transferred to Cass School.

After six years of teaching, according to the custom of the day, Lucy resigned when she married the Reverend John Albert Williams, the son of a former slave who had escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War was won, John immigrated to the United States, landed in Nebraska, and became an activist for the African American community. The couple had one son they named Worthington, and two daughters, Catherine and Dorothy.

Even though she was no longer teaching, Lucy continued to serve her community. For ten years, she was the chairperson of the the board of the Omaha’s Negro Old People’s Home, and she was a prominent member of the Omaha Colored Women’s Club. In addition, she also served on the board of the Omaha chapter of the NAACP.

Read a transcript of Lucy Gamble’s personal history on file at the Library of Congress at this link: Lucy Gamble.

The Life Lesson Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Teaches Us All

Today’s national celebration of the birthday of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., offers teachers an excellent opportunity to share the story of this prominent figure in America’s history, and to guide young people in their reflection on what lessons about life this great leader’s life can offer us.

As a young child myself in the 1960’s, I can remember vividly watching the “I Have a Dream” speech on television that hot August night in 1963. I was eight years old then, and impressionable. I’m all grown up now, but throughout the five and a half decades since that historic March on Washington, whenever I watch video of that historic speech, I am impressed all over again with the possibility that the world we share could, and should, be a better place, and that no matter how young—or old—I am, I can take action, even if it’s small, that would make such improvement come about. This is one of the most important lessons MLK has taught us all, not only then, but most especially now.

The video of King’s historic speech is below. To learn more about this amazing man, click on MLK Biography. To examine the website of the MLK Center for Nonviolent Change, click on King Center.

The Fearless Maria Fearing: The Teacher from Alabama Known as the “Mother from Far Away”

There are many stories of dedicated educators who can boast of extraordinary accomplishments. One of these is Maria Fearing, an African American teacher and missionary who was born into slavery but went on to become a beloved teacher in the Congo.

Maria was born on July 26, 1938, on a plantation near Gainesville, Sumter County, Alabama. As a youngster, she was employed as a house servant, spending much of her time with her mistress and the other children. Maria completed the ninth grade, but didn’t really learn to read and write until she was 33 years old.

When the Civil War was won, Maria worked her way through the Freedman’s Bureau School in Talladega, Alabama, to become a teacher. (This school is now known as Talladega College.) The neophyte educator taught for a number of years in rural schools in Calhoun County in Alabama. But in 1894, at age 56, Maria was inspired to travel to the Congo on the African continent, where for more than 20 years she worked tirelessly as a teacher and Presbyterian missionary. While there, Maria established the Pantops Home for Girls (1915). Pantops took in girls who had been orphaned and those who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery. The intrepid teacher used trinkets, tools, and even salt to barter for the freedom of these girls. She taught reading, writing, arithmetic, homemaking skills, and gardening in the mission day school, and she worked with the women of the surrounding villages. Her appreciative students nicknamed her “mama wa mputu” (“Mother from Far Away”). At the age of 78, because of failing health, Maria was encouraged to retire. In 1918, the Southern Presbyterian Church recognized her many years of dedication and hard work by honoring her with the Loving Cup.

Maria wasn’t ready to quit working, though. After returning to her native Alabama, she continued to teach, working at a church school in Selma, Alabama. She later returned to Sumter County, where she passed away on May 23, 1937. She was 100 years old.

Maria Fearing, a true chalkboard champion, was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000. You can read more about this amazing teacher at Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Chalkboard Champion Josephine Heard: Teacher and Poet

Many talented educators often become celebrated authors. Such is the case with Josephine Delphine Henderson Heard, an early 19th century schoolteacher who taught in Mayesville, South Carolina.

Josephine was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, on October 11, 1861, just after the outbreak of the Civil War. Her parents, Lafayette and Annie Henderson, were slaves. After the war was won and the Emancipation achieved, the Hendersons worked hard to ensure a quality education for their daughter. Josephine, who could read by the age of five, started school in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was later enrolled in historically black Scotia Seminary in nearby Concord. To earn her college degree, she attended college at Bethany Institute in upstate New York. Upon graduation, Josephine accepted her first teaching position at the elementary school located in Mayesville, South Carolina.

In 1882, when the young educator was 21, she married William Henry Heard from Georgia, also a teacher and a former slave. Later William became a prominent minister in the AME Church. The pair traveled the world together, including Liberia, as part of his work for the church.

In addition to being a dedicated teacher, Josephine was also a gifted poet. In 1890, she published her book Morning Glories, a collection of 72 poems. Her book is currently in the public domain, and can be accessed online through the Hathi Trust at Morning Glories. Although Josephine passed away in Philadelphia in 1921, her spirit lives on in her poetry. To learn more about this amazing teacher, click on this link: AAWW Biographies.

History teacher Darrell Jones: US Veteran and Chalkboard Champion

On Veterans Day, the entire country pauses to express appreciation to our nation’s heroic veterans for all they have done, including laying their lives on the line, to protect our American freedoms. One such veteran is Darrell Jones, a middle school history teacher in Mississippi.

As a younger man, Darrell served in the United States Air Force for 20 years. On active duty from 1991 to 2011, he was deployed over two dozen times, including stints in Iraq. During his years of service, the now-retired Technical Sergeant E-6 worked as a crew chief and as an aircraft mechanic.

Darrell grew up in Buffalo, New York. After he graduated high school in 1988, he enrolled in college, where he completed three years of study. He interrupted his studies to join the military, but once he retired from the Air Force in 2011, he used his GI benefits to complete his degree. He earned his bachelor’s in secondary education from Mississippi State University in 2014.

This valiant veteran now works as a 7th grade history teacher at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, Mississippi. “People ask me all the time why I became a teacher after working hard in the military for 20 years,” says Darrell. “I say…I want to continue to serve my country and take care of our children.” He is as dedicated to his work with students as he was to his work in the military. “My goal is to show my students the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, without taking the joy away from the holiday,” asserts Darrell. “I want them to remember we can honor those who have given their lives for our country and appreciate what they have done while also cherishing the fact that we get to spend the day with friends and family.”

Here is the American hero and Chalkboard Champion with some of his kids. Thank you for all your service, Darrell!