Friday, February 23, 2018

WVSLA's celebrates Black History Month

Teachers have always played an important role in our nation.

Carrie Williams, a graduate of Storer College and an African American teacher in Tucker County during the 1890s, knew her students deserved the same eight months of learning each school year that white students received.

But the Tucker County School Board didn’t see it the same way. They allocated a budget of only five months for the black schools to save money.

Miss Williams and J. R. Clifford, the first African American attorney licensed to practice in West Virginia, felt that action was discriminatory.

Based on Mr. Clifford’s advice and the cooperation of the African American community, she continued to teach for the additional three months. She then sued the school board for the wages she was not paid but also for the underlying opportunity for the additional three months of instruction.

In 1892, the case was heard by an all-male jury in Parsons, and Miss Williams’ claim for back pay prevailed.

In November, 1896, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals heard the school board’s appeal and ruled that the decision to shorten the school year of the colored schools was illegal.

As noted in the court’s opinion:  “Such discrimination, being made merely on account of color, cannot be recognized or tolerated, as it is contrary to public policy and the law of the land.”

The landmark case righted a specific wrong, but West Virginia’s schools remained segregated, as was true in many other states, until the Brown vs. Board of Education case was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1954.

To celebrate Black History Month, we gratefully salute a brave teacher who knew unfairness when she and her students experienced it once again.

West Virginia Senior Legal Aid is committed to serving with excellence our state's seniors of color.


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