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Mon, 06.30.1919

Viola Duvall, Teacher, and Activist born

Viola Duvall

*Viola Duvall was born on this date in 1919.  She was a Black teacher and education activist. 

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Viola Louise Duvall was the only child of Vincent and Pearl Duvall.  She was named for two of her mother's sisters who died in the Spanish flu pandemic of that era.  After her mother and Vincent Duvall were divorced, her mother married Coleman Wheeler, and Viola gained two sisters, Angela and Ruby.  Young Viola graduated as a salutatorian from Conception High School in 1937.  That fall, she enrolled at Howard University.  In 1938 at Howard, She was initiated into the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; she remained active throughout her life. 

Duvall earned a Bachelor of Science from Howard University chemistry in 1941.  In 1944, Duvall was in her third year teaching science at Burke High School in her hometown of Charleston, making just $12 a week. While she loved the work, she was also frustrated because her segregated classes had to make do with outdated textbooks handed down from the district's white students. In response, Mrs. Stewart began a parents' fund-raising drive to provide new books for the students.  During this time, she was recruited by the South Carolina NAACP to be the plaintiff in a case to equalize teachers' salaries in the State.

Due to the intimidation and fear of losing their job, many of her fellow teachers refused to participate in the lawsuit. Duvall was shunned by some fellow teachers and neighbors, who feared associating with her for the public stand.  Duvall was the plaintiff in 1944 in an NAACP-backed lawsuit seeking equal pay for Black teachers, Duvall v. School Board. With attorney Thurgood Marshall making her case, she won.  

Afterward, she met her husband, Nathaniel C. Stewart Sr., on a blind date while he was a Second Lieutenant with the Tuskegee Airmen. The two married in 1945. The Stewarts immediately moved to Philadelphia, her husband's hometown. They raised two sons in Mount Airy. Mrs. Stewart returned to teaching in 1964. She was an itinerant special-education instructor serving visually handicapped children in Philadelphia's middle and high schools before retiring in 1981. The Stewarts enjoyed community service and travel to five continents. Her husband died in 2000.   

Viola D. Stewart, 91, a civil-rights pioneer and retired Philadelphia public school teacher, died of Alzheimer's disease on Dec. 14, 2010, at the Sanctuary of Holy Cross, a nursing home in Burtonsville, Md.  Her last "night out" was spent celebrating her 70th year in the sorority two years ago at its centennial gala in Washington.  "The world was a better place because of her," said her son, Louis J. Stewart. 

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