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Tue, 05.23.1848

Maritcha Remond Lyons, Suffragist born

Maritcha Remond Lyons

*Maritcha Remond Lyons was born on this date in 1848.  She was a Black educator, civic leader, suffragist, and public speaker in New York City and Brooklyn, New York. She taught in public schools in Brooklyn and was the second black woman to serve in their system as an assistant principal.  

She was born at 144 Centre Street in New York City, the third of five children of Albro Lyons Sr. and Mary Joseph Lyons (née Marshall). Her father graduated from the first African Free School in Manhattan, New York. The Lyons family lived in New York City's free Black community and were active members of the Free African Church of St. Philip in Five Points, where the African Burial Ground was created.  Lyons' parents operated a seamen's home and seamen's outfitting store that served also as a cover for the family's Underground Railroad efforts. Though she was very ill as a child, Maritcha was eager to acquire an education. She wrote that she developed a "love of study for study’s sake."  

Lyons attended Manhattan's Colored School No. 3 under the direction of Charles Reason, a former educator at Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth.  The Lyons' home on Vandewater Street was attacked several times during the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863.  She fled with her family to Salem, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, before returning to Brooklyn.  In 1865, Lyons was refused entry to the high school in Providence because she was black. The state had no high school for black children.  The family successfully sued the state of Rhode Island in a campaign to bring an end to segregated schools; she testified before the state legislature, "plead for the opening of the door of opportunity".  Lyons later became the first African American student to graduate from Providence High School.  

After graduating, she returned to New York to accept a teaching position at Brooklyn's Colored School No. 1, the first African Free School in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. Colored School No. 1 was Brooklyn's first school for African Americans, opened at the current site of the Walt Whitman Houses.  Lyons' teaching career spanned nearly 50 years. She devoted herself to elementary education, and by the end of her career, she was the assistant principal of Public School No. 83, the first fully integrated school in Brooklyn.  Lyons was a well-known lecturer and speaker. She once won a debate against Ida B. Wells at the Brooklyn Literary Union, and Wells credits Lyons with teaching her how to become a better public speaker.   On October 5, 1892, Lyons and educator and activist Victoria Earle Matthews organized a testimonial dinner in New York’s Lyric Hall for Ida B. Wells and her anti-lynching campaign. They continued to work on this issue, founding the Women’s Loyal Union of New York and Brooklyn in February 1892. One of their accomplishments was to help to fund the printing of an important antilynching pamphlet, "Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All Its Phases" by Ida B. Wells.   

She also fought for voting rights for women as a member of the Colored Women's Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn.  Lyons' memoir and photographs of herself and her family are included in the Harry A. Williamson Papers at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library.  In addition to her memoir, Lyons contributed eight biographical sketches to Hallie Quinn Brown's Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction(1926).  Maritcha Remond Lyons lived in Brooklyn with her brother and his family until she died on January 28, 1929.  

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