Every day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org and the Education Post, 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 Hall of Fame Member is Donella Brown Wilson.
Donella B. Wilson was born on May 24, 1909 in Fort Motte, South Carolina. The granddaughter of enslaved Black people, the power of education resonated with the family. Brown-Wilson learned how to read without formal teaching. At an early age, she learned to “read” by studying a Sears & Roebuck company catalog, and by listening to her grandmother read the Bible.
Brown-Wilson’s life was impacted by her experiences, living on a plantation as her parents were sharecroppers. Like most parents, the Browns worked hard for their family, but they certainly wanted more for their children. Brown-Wilson’s mother, Minnie encouraged both her and Wilson sister to complete their studies and get careers.
Wilson attend Booker T. Washington grade school in Columbia, SC, and high school at Allen University—where she met her husband, John R. Wilson. Wilson would graduate from Allen universities teacher training program in 1933. Upon graduation, Wilson had to be creative with finding a placement for her to teach. Married women couldn’t teach in Columbia’s public schools so she chose to work in South Carolina’s rural counties.
When Brown-Wilson was in eighth grade, she was a member of the NAACP. The activism of that time stayed with her throughout her life. As an educator, when the NAACP sued on behalf of Black teachers for higher pay, Brown-Wilson and her husband (who was also a teacher) advocated for supplemental pay and sick leave on par with white teachers at other schools; to which their contracts were not renewed by their district. Brown-Wilson persevered and continue teaching at the Roberts High School in Holly Hill, Orangeburg County for the next 20 years.
But that was not the only instance of activism.
Brown-Wilson was active in the struggle to secure voting rights for Black people in Columbia, after her neighbor, George Elmore and the NAACP successfully challenged voter suppression in the all-white Democratic primary in 1946. She and her family were among the hundred to breathe the heat and long lines to exercise their boat; she voted in every election since 1947.
Not only was she an active voter, but Brown-Wilson was also an amazing source of historical detail for journalist, scholars, and students; serving as the advising historian on several projects, including the Between the Waters Documentary Project that showcases the culture and history of Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown County on the South Carolina coast.
Mrs. Brown-Wilson passed away on January 12, 2018 at the age of 108. Her example of perseverance and activism is something that, all people can learn from fighting on behalf of oppressed people, particularly African-Americans in the United States.
Donella Brown Wilson; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Donella Brown Wilson, visit the following site.