By: Lysette Arnold, Community Engagement Associate at Groundwork Ohio
For Black History Month, we’ll be sharing profiles of prominent Black activists who have paved the way for much of the work we do advocating for Ohio’s children and families.
Anna Evans Murray was a passionate educator and fearless early-childhood education activist who spent her life advocating for free kindergarten and training of kindergarten teachers. Her work laid the groundwork for advocates working towards city, state, and federal funding for early childhood education.
If you’ve read our Early Childhood Dashboard, you know that less than 40% of Ohio children are not entering Kindergarten ready to learn. Further, the Dashboard data demonstrates that when children start behind, they often stay behind demonstrating a need to focus uniquely on improving the experiences children are having in the first five years of life.
Anna was born in Oberlin, Ohio in 1857. She came from an activist family that supported Black American freedom as participants in the Underground Railroad. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1876 and moved to Washington, D.C., where she briefly taught music to college students at Howard University, followed by several years of teaching third and fourth-grade students.
Beginning in 1895, she served as chair of the education committee of the National League of Colored Women (NLCW). In this role, she campaigned for the establishment of free kindergarten for Black children in Washington, D.C. The League established several local kindergartens, and in October 1896, she took over the management of a school established by the NLCW to train kindergarten teachers. In 1898 she successfully lobbied Congress for the very first allocation of federal funds to introduce kindergarten classes to the D.C public school system. In 1906 she again secured federal funding, this time for kindergarten teacher training classes. The high cost of private education was a barrier to Black and working-class women aspiring to become kindergarten teachers. Limited access to training also restricted the ability of Black communities to build the educated workforce needed to expand early childhood education services.
In 1904 she published an article in which she recommended starting the education of children long before the age of six, which was then the legal age for children to start public school. She believed nursery schools should be part of the public school system and advocated for them throughout her career.
She was nationally known as an early childhood education advocate and many groups turned to her for advice. Murray understood that access to early learning opportunities depended on a child’s age, family income, race, and where they lived.
Gordon grew up in the segregated town of Goldsboro, North Carolina. It wasn’t until he was suspended from Howard University after struggling to keep up and being discouraged to pursue graduate school when he discovered his professional passion and life’s work: education for all learners.
Gordon received his bachelor's degree from Howard University, a Master of Arts from American University, and a Doctorate of Education from Columbia University, along with an astounding nine honorary degrees.
His research includes the advancement of the concepts of:
The Achievement Gap,
Affirmative Development of Academic Ability, and
All areas focus on improving the quality of academic achievement in diverse learners. He has held appointments at several of the nation’s leading universities and is the author of more than 200 articles and 18 books. Gordon’s work has heavily influenced modern thinking in psychology, education, and social policy.
In 1965, Gordon was selected as Director of Research and Evaluation as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” to help design and evaluate the Head Start Program. The Head Start Program prepares America's most vulnerable young children to succeed in school and in life beyond school by offering free comprehensive learning and development services to children from low-income homes.
“I always thought that preschool was preschool, they’re going to watch the kids, they’re going to teach them something. Head Start not only taught me a lot about how early childhood education should go, but also how families should be treated with the respect coming together and working together for the benefit of the child.” ~Family Action Network ambassador
When asked if he thought that Head Start has been successful, Gordon said, “As a political and social endeavor, it has turned out to be one of the most successful and effective of the federal government's experiments.”
Gordon understood the importance of strengthening the families and communities that children come from to improve opportunities for learning very early on, which still rings true to this day.
"Head Start taught me what needed to be done before kindergarten. By the time they hit kindergarten, they were reading, they were writing, they had basic math down.” ~Family Action Network ambassador
At 101 years old, Gordon is still an active member of the education community. He has lived through many aspects of the Black plight in America including the civil rights movement, landmark supreme court cases, and a number of social revolutions. Still, he used his education and knowledge to lift up others.
Early Head Start is another federally funded community-based program that came out of Head Start. To learn more about the Early Head Start program and how Ohio’s families are benefiting from this early intervention, register for our upcoming webinar, Early Head Start: Investing in What Works for Families of Infants and Toddlers, happening Wednesday, February 15.