Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You
The Great Educator Fanny Richards
Fanny Moore Richards 1847-1922
Fannie was born on October 1, 1841, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Her father, Adolph Richards, was a native of Guadeloupe, an island near Puerto Rico. Of mixed ancestry and educated in London, Adolph operated a carpentry shop in Fredericksburg. Her mother, Marie Louise Moore, was a native of the town and the daughter of a Scotsman and a free black woman from Toronto, Canada. The Richards were among the town’s free blacks who operated a secret school in the home of Richard DeBaptiste, and it was there that Fannie received her first schooling.
Fannie’s father died when she was only 10 years old. Her mother moved to Detroit, where there were a group of blacks who had left Virginia for better opportunities in the North. For awhile, Fannie went to school in Toronto, the home of her sister and brother-in-law, and she later returned to Detroit to attend the Teachers Training School.
In 1865, after operating a private school for three years, Fannie Richards was hired as Detroit’s first black public school teacher. Two years later, she and her brother, John, decided to fight Detroit’s segregated school system, which gave twelve years of schooling to whites and only six years of schooling to blacks. The result was a legal struggle that went all the way to the State Supreme Court and ended the discriminatory policy toward black children.
Richards believed that education was the ultimate key to black progress, and that her own career was a perfect example. She often pointed out that only lack of opportunity kept blacks from realizing their full potential. “No race had advanced more rapidly than ours,” she wrote, “and Negros have not shown all they can do yet.”
In 1872, when the school board decided to start Detroit’s first kindergarten, Richards was selected as the teacher. During this time, she was active in the Second Baptist Church, the city’s oldest black congregation, where she taught Sunday School for more than 50 years. While involved in the education of youth, Richards saved part of her small salary to help the elderly. In 1897, she founded the Phyllis Wheatley Home for Aged Black Women and served as the Home’s first president and, later, as board chairman.
During her life, Richards received many honors for her services to the young and the aged. In 1910, Detroit’s daily newspaper printed tributes paid to her prominent white citizens. When the state legislature decided, in 1915, to organize the Freedmen’s Progress Commission, it selected Richards as an honorary vice president. Even long after Fannie Moore Richards’ death on February 13, 1922, her contributions were still remembered.
In 1970, her memory was honored at a tea in the Detroit Historical Museum, where her portrait was hung to honor of the city’s first black teacher. In the years prior to her retirement in 1915, she earned the respect and admiration of the city’s citizens for her scholarship, her innovative teaching methods, and her rapport with children of all races. This little southern girl, who had to learn her first lessons in hiding, had spent her life passing along her knowledge to generations of young people.
Excerpt from A Salute To Historic Black Educators.
This is only a summary of the life of Fannie Moore Richards.