James William Charles Pennington, Black Educator Hall of Fame

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 James William Charles Pennington.

James William C. Pennington was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1807.

He and his family lived on a plantation in Hagerstown, Maryland, and served a cruel [captor] who beat them without reason. All that abuse made Pennington liberate himself from the plantation at the age of nineteen in an eight-day ordeal during which he was twice captured and twice escaped.

He finally found his way to the home of a Quaker across the Pennsylvania border who took him in and began his education. He arrived in Philadelphia but left quickly for New York City. Taking advantage of night schools and using his wages to pay for tutors, Pennington progressed so rapidly that in just five years he was hired to teach in a school for Black children in Newtown, Long Island.

Pennington’s devotion to education stems from his own experience and desire to prevent Black children from being robbed of their needs. He wrote, “[The slave child] is thrown into the world without a social circle to flee to for hope, shelter, comfort, or instruction. . . of this, the slave child, however tender and delicate, is robbed. Pennington felt strongly that education could improve the lives of free Blacks and dispel the charge of ignorance against them and therefore advised Black parents to take their children’s education further and to not be satisfied once they’ve attained basic arithmetic, reading, and writing skills.

While working as an educator of Black children, Pennington also began his work training for the ministry. Pennington attended classes at Yale College in New Haven, although Yale forbade him to enroll officially or to use its library. But Pennington did receive an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Heidelberg while at a Peace Conference in Paris.

Pennington was known for being an educator and preacher. But one of his greatest contributions to Black people came by way of his written word of history. He wrote and published Text Book of the Origin and History of the Colored People, which employs reason, biblical passages, and history to argue against the dominant proslavery discourse. 

In addition to all of his work as an educator and clergyman, Pennington helped to found the American Anti-Slavery Society, as well as, the Union Missionary Society (later renamed to the American Missionary Society). He also served as the officiant of the wedding of Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray.

Pennington passed away on October 22, 1870, in Jacksonville, FL where he was working African Americans post-emancipation. To describe America’s raging thirst and commitment for keeping Black people in bondage, Pennington said: The whole land is full of blood. 

James W. C. Pennington; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on James W. C. Pennington, visit the following site.


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