E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer.
But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.
Today, our featured Black Educator is Fanny J. Coppin.
Francis (Fanny) M. Jackson Coppin was born enslaved in Washington D.C. in 1837. But enslaved she would not remain. Her aunt purchased Fanny’s freedom for $125. She supported herself at age fourteen, while excelling in school; first at Rhode Island Normal School, then at Oberlin College. Coppin, who said that to get an education to teach Black people was “an idea deep in her soul,” was so gifted and talented, she was the first Black teacher-pupil at Oberlin.
So great an instructor, so filled were her classes, the college halted any more students from joining her class – the living legend’s class was filled beyond capacity. Despite the heavy load of preparing and perfecting lessons, teaching, and her own studies, Coppin still managed to commit to teaching freedmen how to read and write at night. Black literacy was a part of her mission.
Upon her graduation, she was appointed a teacher Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth (previously known as the African Institute and later renamed Cheyney University, America’s first HBCU). Four years later, she became the principal. Maybe her skill for teaching students Virgil, Cicero, Horace and New Testament Greek had something to do with it.
As principal, Coppin did everything within her power to provide a strong foundation for young people’s success. She created an industrial department at the school and a Women’s Industrial Exchange for lady students to display their skills and talent. Coppin also encouraged local employers to hire those students to put their skills and talents, honed under her leadership, to good use.
Coppin even founded a home for young women and girls – she saw a growing number of women moving into the city, with no place to stay.
Coppin also advocated for the need for quality elementary education for students and quality teaching strategies. A master teacher, she shared her knowledge with other educators. She believed in treating students with respect; disciplining with dignity. Coppin urged teachers to avoid corporal punishment as a strategy and eschewed depriving students of their lunches or recess as a disciplinary tactics.
Coppin was a teacher’s teacher. She was indeed “a real one.” Coppin State University, at the time, a teacher preparation program, was named after her.
Coppin was about the work of strengthening community through the school. But education for Coppin was the foundation for doing so. One quote of hers, in particular, stands out. In a letter to Frederick Douglass, Coppin said:
I feel sometimes like a person to whom in childhood was entrusted some sacred flame…This is the desire to see my race lifted out of the mire of ignorance, weakness and degradation; no longer to sit in obscure corners and devour the scraps of knowledge which his superiors flung at him. I want to see him crowned with strength and dignity; adorned with the enduring grace of intellectual attainments.
It is our hope, no our mission, that all educators similarly house within them that sacred flame; a sacred flame to fight for Black children against anti-Blackness and injustice wherever they find it. Whether inside or outside the classroom, may we embody the work and the passion of Fanny Jackson Coppin; may we establish the foundation for the communities of our students to be strengthened. Ase.
Francis M. Jackson Coppin; a member of our Black Educator Hall of Fame.
#BlackEducatorsHoF #BlackTeacherPipeline #BlackEducatorPipeline
For more information on Fanny Jackson Coppin, visit the following site.