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Fri, 03.11.1927

Gloria Blackwell, Activist, and Educator born

Gloria Blackwell

*Gloria Blackwell was born on this date in 1927. She was a Black activist and educator. Gloria Thomasina Blackwell was born in Little Rock in Dillon County, South Carolina, the second of three children to Harrison Benjamin Blackwell and Lurline Olivia Thomas Blackwell. She had two brothers. Her father was a businessman and barber, and her mother was a school teacher, pianist, choir director, and community volunteer.

Blackwell attended Mather Academy in Camden, South Carolina, and graduated high school in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1943. At the age of 16, she enrolled at Claflin College in Orangeburg.  In 1944, Blackwell left college to marry James Becknell. They had three daughters and lived in Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois. The marriage ended in divorce. Blackwell lost her eldest daughter in a car accident at 5. She returned to Orangeburg with her two small daughters and completed her degree at Claflin in 1953.

She married Larney G. Rackley and continued graduate study, receiving a Master of Arts degree in education from South Carolina State University. She later returned to university for additional graduate education, earning a doctorate in 1973 in American studies from Emory University in Atlanta. Blackwell became active in the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s as an officer in the local NAACP.

In October 1961, Blackwell was arrested for sitting with her daughter in the whites-only waiting area of Orangeburg hospital. She was defended in court by Matthew J. Perry; Blackwell and her daughter filed a civil lawsuit, won her suit, and integrated the facility. The Orangeburg County chapter of the NAACP made the integration of public schools its priority. She began participating in and leading nonviolent demonstrations to desegregate the city's schools, hospitals, and other public accommodations.

The white superintendent fired Blackwell/Rackley as a third-grade teacher from the Negro schools, and South Carolina State University did not renew her husband's teaching contract. In the dismissal letter, the superintendent of schools wrote that Blackwell was "rabid in her zeal for social change and was unfit to be a teacher." She challenged the action in a civil suit and won restoration to her job, but she and her husband moved to Virginia to teach English at Norfolk State College, now Norfolk State University. Rackley was invited by the United Federation of Teachers in New York City to speak at a civil rights rally in December 1963.

From 1968–1970, she directed African American studies at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. After completing her doctorate, in 1973, Blackwell began teaching at Clark Atlanta University. She continued there for her remaining academic career until retirement in 1993. Blackwell was married five times. In retirement, Blackwell continued to speak to groups about her experiences in the civil rights movement, encouraging younger people to work for social justice.

At her death on December 7, 2010, Congressman James Clyburn called Blackwell "fearless" and said, "She was just a tremendous spirit." In January 2011, Blackwell was honored posthumously in Dillon County, her birth, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a Lifetime Community Service Award.

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