Friday, February 07, 2014

A black activist, Class of (18) '70

In 1870 a young woman, only 16, graduated from Brockport State Normal School, our school in that era. Her name was Fannie Barrier, and after Brockport she went south to teach in the schools established there for the recently freed slaves, met and married a lawyer named Williams, and they went on to quite a career as activists for civil, gender and worker rights. Fannie became a noted speaker and writer, the only black woman to speak at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions for example. She helped found the NAACP, wrote many articles and papers, was closely associated with Booker T. Washington and so much more. In her old age she returned to Brockport where she had grown up and lived with her sister Ella in a house on Erie Street. By the time they died in the early 1940s her part in history had been largely lost sight of, but that is being rectified today. The first ever biography of her is out, Wanda Hendricks' Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race, and a renewed push is on to see her successfully nominated and placed in the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.

In working on some background to her story the archivist found this earliest entry for Fannie in our records, from when she was an eleven year old student in the Collegiate Institute's preparatory department in 1865.

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