Today, our featured Black Educator is Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser.
Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser is a testimony of striving for excellence while dedicating one’s self to the education and empowerment of others.
Prosser was born in 1897 in Texas; one of eleven children. She graduated from the Yoakum Colored High School and the Prairie View Normal College; she was valedictorian at both schools. After graduation, Prosser began a teaching career, first in Yoakum’s segregated schools and then in Austin.
But, Prosser almost didn’t make it to college. Her parents thought they would only be able to afford to send one of their eleven children to college. They were going to send Prosser’s brother, Leon. However, Leon knew how much his sister, Inez, desired to attend college and he convinced their parents to send Inez instead. Leon’s sacrifice and their parents’ investment paid off as Inez’s drive and success enabled her to support five of her siblings to earn college degrees.
Prosser began her career at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black college northwest of Houston. In 1913, with a two-year certificate, she began teaching in Austin, Texas, first at an all-Black elementary school and then a high school. While teaching in Austin, Prosser obtained another bachelor’s degree, with distinction, in education from Samuel Houston University. Segregated schools, meant that Prosser was forced to leave Texas to pursue her graduate degree. Prosser obtained her master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Colorado. From there, she joined the faculty at Tillotson College, where she taught educational courses and was known as an excellent teacher and leader.
Prosser not only understood the power of an education, she also was able to prove that same race teachers and all-Black schools had a profound impact on students because of caring Black teachers, and the safety affinity spaces provided for Black children; intellectually, emotionally, culturally, and psychologically safe. Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin Jr. notes in an article, “America’s first Black female psychologist“:
Her dissertation research examined self-esteem and personality variables in matched pairs of African-American middle-school children, with half the children having attended segregated schools and the other half attending integrated schools in the Cincinnati area.
She concluded that Black children fared better in segregated schools with Black classmates and Black teachers. Specifically, she found that Black children from integrated schools experienced more social maladjustment, felt less secure in their social relations and had less satisfactory relationships with their families. They were also more likely to feel inferior at school, had less satisfactory relationships with their teachers and were more eager to leave school early.
Of course, Prosser’s research was very controversial in the decades leading to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954, although her work was supported by many Black parents and other Black researchers like W.E.B DuBois and Dr. Carter G. Woodson who knew that many of the white teachers in these so-called integrated schools harbored ill intent towards Black children.
Prosser’s work at Tillotson earned her the Rockefeller Foundation General Education Board Fellowship. Shen then began teaching at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. She remained for only a year as she pursued her doctorate degree at the University of Cincinnati. In 1933, Prosser became one of the few Black people to have a Ph.D., and the only Black person with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.
Sadly, Prosser lost her life due to an automobile accident.
Dr. Prosser is an example of academic and teaching excellence. She continued to push herself academically as she dedicated her professional career to teaching young people. Educators today juggle their professional responsibilities with their academic pursuits. Prosser is an example of how to allow one’s passion and dedication to learn and the work lead them in pursuit of purpose for self and power for others.
Inez Beverly Prosser; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Inez Beverly Prosser, visit the following site.