Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman. Library of Congress,

In 1849 Harriet Tubman escaped enslavement and returned 7-10 times to liberate other family members from Maryland.  Tubman was known as Moses to enslaved African Americans and risked death by returning to free her parents, family members and others willing to escape with her to Philadelphia. Gifted with a keen sense of direction and determination, Tubman’s life demonstrated the tenacity black women had against enslavement.

Education was important to African American women, the desire to learn and teach others became the bedrock within the community and the cornerstone of the black women’s club movement. Learning was not solely a cerebral endeavor, but a tool of empowerment and demonstrated citizenship. In 1848 Benjamin Roberts, filed the first school integration suit on behalf of his daughter Sarah Roberts in Massachusetts. Sarah was denied admission to a neighborhood school because of race.  In 1849 the Massachusetts state supreme court upheld the legality of segregation justifying it with the first recorded use of the “separate but equal” doctrine. 

Lucy Sessions earned a literary degree from Oberlin College, becoming the first black woman in the United States to receive a college degree in 1850.  In 1857, the same year the United States Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott vs. Sanford declaring black people had no rights which a white man is bound to respect, Elizabeth Thorn Scott-Flood opened what was probably the first colored school in Alameda County, California.


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