Education During Slavery

Who was the first African-American woman to graduate from a college in the South?

Virginia E. Walker Broughton (c. 1856–1934) studied at Fisk University in Nashville for ten years before receiving her bachelor’s degree in May 1875, and is said to be the first black woman in the South to graduate from college. She went on to teach in the public schools of Memphis and became active with Christian missionary activities. In both areas of endeavor, Broughton was often the victim of gender bias. As a teacher, a male teacher was given the promotion she should have received. As a woman missionary, male preachers often resented her efforts because she was more literate than they. Even her own husband initially questioned her dedication to missionary work. She is recognized as a religious feminist who was one of several Baptist women who used the Bible to defend women’s rights during the latter decades of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth century. She taught, lectured, and wrote throughout her life. Fisk University awarded her an honorary degree in 1878. She was a widow living in Memphis at the time of her death.

Educator, author, and Pan-Africanist W.E.B. Du Bois was the first black man to earn a doctorate from Harvard University.


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