Gwendolyn Bennett, Black Educator Hall of Fame

E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with, 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 Gwendolyn Bennett.

Gwendolyn Bennett was born in Giddings, Texas on July 8, 1902, to Joshua and Mamie Bennett. Both parents worked as educators of Indigenous children with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After moving to Washington D.C. Bennett’s parents divorced. Mamie Bennett was awarded custody, but Joshua Bennett kidnapped Gwendolyn Bennett and eventually settled in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City.

Bennett attended Brooklyn’s Girls High from 1918 to 1921 where she became the first African American to join the Drama and Literary societies and where she was rewarded first place in a school-wide art contest. After high school, Bennett attended Columbia University and the Pratt Institute. While in college, she had two poems published by both the NAACP and the National Urban League. She graduated from both institutions in 1924.

One of those poems published while in college was titled, Heritage, where in the last three stanzas, she says:

I want to hear the chanting, Around a heathen fire, Of a strange black race.
I want to breathe the Lotus flow’r, Sighing to the stars, With tendrils drinking at the Nile….
I want to feel the surging, Of my sad people’s soul, Hidden by a minstrel-smile

After graduation, from 1924 to 1927, she taught art at Howard University but took a year-long leave in 1925 to study art in Paris on a scholarship. She was forced to resign from Howard, however, in 1927 after she became engaged to a medical student. In 1926 Bennett returned to New York to become assistant editor of Opportunity magazine. There she found herself a participant of the Harlem Renaissance with her numerous poetry pieces published throughout the remainder of the decade.

In 1928, Bennett relocated to Eustis, Florida, with her first husband, Alfred J. Jackson, where she taught art and Spanish at a local high school. Bennett returned to New York, settling in Hempstead, in 1932, where she worked odd jobs before taking a post with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Art Project from 1935–41.

From 1937 to 1941, Bennett was a member of the Harlem Artists Guild and directed the Harlem Community Art Center. She was also on the Board of the Negro Playwright’s Guild and contributed to the development of the George Washington Carver Community School in New York. From 1948 to 1968, she worked for the Consumers Union, until she and her second husband, Richard Crosscup decided to open and operate an antiques shop in Pennsylvania. She passed away on May 31, 1981.

Gwendolyn Bennett; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on Gwendolyn Bennett, visit the following site.


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