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Detroit’s first Black teacher died on this day in 1922

By: - February 13, 2019 7:42 pm

Fannie Richards, the city’s first Black public school teacher, died on this day in 1922. She was 81 years old.

Richards was born on October 1, 1840, to free parents in Fredericksburg, Va. As a child, she moved with her parents to Toronto, Canada, where she was educated.

In 1863, Richards opened a private school for black children in Detroit.

In 1869, she was appointed by the Detroit Board of Education as an instructor at Colored School No. 2. That year, when the Detroit Board of Education was under the leadership of John Bagley — who would go on to become Michigan’s governor — Richards and several relatives protested against the city’s racially segregated school system.

Two years later in 1871, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the Detroit Board of Education to abolish separate schools for Black and white students.

Richards was then transferred to the newly integrated Everett Elementary School, where she taught for 44 years. It was there that Richards established the first kindergarten class in Michigan.

In 1915, after more than 50 years of service, Richards retired from teaching. Richards is a member of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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