But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.
Today, our featured Black Educator is Mary Greenwood.
Marie Louise Greenwood was an educator and a trailblazer for African American teachers in Colorado. Mrs. Greenwood was born in Los Angeles, CA, on November 24, 1912. Her mother, a laundress, and her father, a railroad chef, moved the family to Denver, CO, in search of better economic opportunities. Marie Greenwood also encountered racism while in Denver.
Racism is ugly, and it sometimes leaves a stain as a result of how it feels to have it happen to you. But Marie Greenwood used those ugly moments to fuel her purpose. Although her guidance counselor at the city’s East High School attempted to convince her not to go to college, she didn’t let that deter her—she was in the top ten in her class then. She graduated from the city’s West High School with a scholarship to attend Colorado State Teachers’ College.
About the encounter with the guidance counselor, Greenwood recalled, “I was the only brown freshman in the whole class,” Greenwood recalled:
“The girls’ advisor … was checking on the freshmen to see if they were planning to go to college. I said, ‘well I am planning to go to college. She looked up at me as though to say, ‘you must have lost your mind’… She informed me that if I went to college, my father would be just losing money because all I could ever do would be to work in somebody’s house… I just said, ‘I am going to college,’ and I walked out.
Greenwood credited her parents for impressing upon her the role an education could have on her life. She recalled, “They wanted me to have an education so that I did not have to do the menial, hard work they were doing… And the only way I could do it was to always do my level best.” When confronted with racism in college, she continued her studies and graduated with a degree in kindergarten primary education.
Despite the low number of Black teachers and Black educators being routinely assigned administrative work and substitute teaching positions—and people dismissing her goals—Greenwood pursued her passion to become a teacher. Greenwood took and passed the Colorado State Teacher’s Exam at her pastor’s encouragement. Greenwood accepted a job offer to teach at Whittier Elementary School in 1935, and 1938, she became the first African American teacher to obtain tenure in Colorado.
Greenwood’s trailblazing didn’t end in the classroom. According to the Denver Post, Greenwood was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club. This interracial group fought segregation through lawsuits and other means to force restaurants and shops to serve Black people in the 1940s. She was also a charter member of Denver’s Epsilon Nu Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, founded in 1949. In the 1960s, Greenwood also served on a Denver Public Schools committee that studied racial inequalities in school funding and staffing in the district.
Greenwood’s children were the first African Americans to attend Newlon Elementary School, where Greenwood would teach for 20 years. Upon retirement, Greenwood would receive numerous honorary doctorates and author two books. She wrote Every Child Can Learn in 2007 at age 95 and her autobiography in 2013 at 101, titled By the Grace of God. Greenwood is also the recipient of the Martin Luther King Trailblazer Award.
Marie Louise Greenwood passed away on November 15, 2019. Eight days before her death, Greenwood shared a final lesson with students: aim high because “if you reach for the stars, at least you’ll hit the treetops.” Greenwood died at age 106.
Marie L. Greenwood; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame. For more information on Marie L. Greenwood, visit the following site.