Today, our featured Black Educator is Mathilda Beasley.
Mathilda Beasley was born Mathilde Taylor in New Orleans in 1832. Born to an enslaved woman and her captor, Beasley became an orphan at an early age. While it is unknown how she arrived to Savannah, Georgia, she did in the 1850’s. She arrived to a city with numerous free Black people, herself a free Black woman where opportunities abound.
At age 21, Beasley worked as a seamstress and dressmaker, however she dedicated her life to the education and care of the Black children of Savannah, Georgia. She started by teaching enslaved children how to read and write. From her arrival until 1860, Beasley ran a small secret school to teach enslaved children in her home. Her inspiration was due to the kindness show to her during her youth by Black people. It can be assumed that she herself was taught by Black people how to read and write.
Sadly, there are little to no records of the school. Yet Records indicate that there were at least six or seven illegal schools for slaves in operation in Savannah in 1860.
Beasley would work in the restaurant of a wealth free Black man, who owned numerous businesses and property, Abraham Beasley. The two married. Prior to the marriage, Beasley was baptized in the Catholic Church and was a devout member of the church. Upon her husband’s death, she was left with all of his money, property and businesses. However, she donated all of it to the Catholic Church, historians believe, to atone for the sins of her husband whose wealth came from the slave trade.
Beasley requested that part of the funds be used to establish a home for Black orphan children, like herself during her childhood. Beasley became a nun of the Franciscan Order and founded the first community of Black nuns in Georgia. Beasley, known as Mother Beasley in her later years, would continue to run the orphanage for the reminder of her life.
Mathilda Beasley’s life is a picture of selflessness in the service of Black children. She reference the struggles of her own childhood to inform her life’s work. She is a testament of how one’s pain can serve one’s purpose. As educators, we must never forget that education is for a purpose; to equip young people to make their world a better place. Purpose drove Black people to learn then; it is no different today.
Mathilda Beasley; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Mathilda Beasley, visit the following site.