Black History Month
Black History Month is not only about celebrating the advances the African American community has achieved, but it is also a time to remember the hardships it went through in order to accomplish them. February 12, 1926 Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week. It is said that Woodson chose February for the births of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas. He was hoping to celebrate the past, not to necessarily gain another time of celebration; but in February of 1976 Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month.
Woodson not only created Negro History Week but also founded the Association for Study of African American Life and History Inc. He was the son of two former slaves, and from a young age, he worked in a coalmine in Kentucky. He was a man who believed in equal rights for everyone. He started the true appreciation for everything African Americans – and other supporters of the movement for equal rights – had to go through to get to where they were in his day. With an even bigger job in equal rights in the new 21st century, African Americans are still doing things to recognize Black History Month.
We especially celebrate local figures such as Marie L. Greenwood and Evie Garrett Dennis.
Educator Marie Louise Greenwood was born on November 24, 1912 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, a railroad chef and a domestic worker, moved the family to Denver, Colorado in 1925 searching for better opportunities. Having parents who stressed education, Greenwood decided to pursue teaching as a career. Upon graduating from West High School, her academic record as one of Colorado’s top students earned her a scholarship. This enabled her to enroll in Colorado Teacher’s College in Greeley where she was confronted with blatant racism. She was prevented from living on campus or joining any student organizations. In 1935, Greenwood was encouraged by the minister of her church to take the Colorado State Teacher’s Examination. She successfully passed the written examination and oral interview. Upon receiving a letter of assignment entitling her to teach at Whittier Elementary School in 1935, Greenwood became one of the first African American school teachers in Denver.
In 1943, Greenwood married, and two years later, in 1945, she took a hiatus from teaching in order to raise a family. One of her four children became the first African American student to attend Newlon Elementary School. In 1953, Greenwood returned to teaching part-time as a substitute also at Newlon Elementary School. At this time, African American teachers were assigned only to schools in the predominantly African American northeast neighborhood of Denver. However, the parents of Newlon students realized Greenwood’s proficiency at teaching, and in 1955, she was accepted as a full-time teacher.
Greenwood has donated The Marie Greenwood Papers to the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver. This bequest contains materials spanning from the 1930s and 1940s and from the 1980s to 2001. She accumulated these documents during her years as a teacher and community volunteer.
Greenwood lives in Denver, Colorado where she wrote Every Child Can Learn, which is being used by teachers in many schools. As a result of her book, she has been a commencement speaker at the University of Northern Colorado, Martin Luther King Day speaker, student awards speaker and held meetings of professors and education students who have read the book. Every Child Can Learn is now in its second edition.
In 2001, the Marie L. Greenwood Academy in Denver, Colorado was named in her honor. On January 15, 2010, she received the Martin Luther King Trailblazer Award, honored by Representative Diana DiGette with a letter of congratulations which is registered in the Congressional Record. On May 7, 2010, the University of Northern Colorado honored her with the Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. In 2013, Greenwood’s autobiography entitled By The Grace of God was published.
The HistoryMakers interviewed Greenwood on April 19, 2007.
Evie Garrett Dennis was born on September 8, 1924, in Farmhaven, Mississippi, to Ola and Eugene Garrett. She graduated from Cameron Street High School and received her B.S. degree from St. Louis University in 1953.
Dennis came to Denver, Colorado, as a researcher for the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and The Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children. In 1966, she began her career in public education as a teacher. Dennis was instrumental in convening the first ever convention of The Athletics Congress (now USA Track & Field) in 1980. Since 1983, Dennis has chaired the El Pomar Foundation Awards for Excellence Commission, which recognizes and rewards Colorado nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals that serve their communities with distinction and excellence. She was the Chef de Mission for the United States Olympic Committee for two Pan American Games as well as the 1988 Olympic Games, a first for a woman in Olympics’ history. Dennis was one of the first two women to reach the U.S. Olympic Executive Committee and the first to serve as Vice President of the U.S. Olympic Committee. She has chaired its Women’s Committee and Diversity Committee and remains a member of the Governing Bodies Council. She has been a staunch advocate and spokesperson for Title IX, ensuring equal access to sports for young women. Dennis served as Deputy Superintendent of the Denver Public School System from 1988 through 1990 and the District Superintendent from 1990 to 1994. She was the first woman and the first African American to head the 60,000-student district. Dennis was charged with implementing and monitoring the U.S. District Court order to desegregate Denver Public Schools. Through her dedication to improve and ensure equal educational opportunities for all students and to work with the community through the difficult issues presented by the court’s order, Dennis successfully guided the school system through a complicated and divisive period to create positive alliances between the school district, parents, students, teachers, patrons, and community leaders. She designed and implemented innovative programs to meet the needs of the district’s diverse population, including the Education Advisory Councils; the Denver Energy, Engineering and Education Program (DEEEP); and the American Israel Student Exchange Program. Dennis officially retired from the Denver Public School System in 1994.
Dennis was honored as an inductee to the Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame in 1997. In 1999, she was named Laureate of the Association of National Olympic Committees. In addition, Dennis was inducted into the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2004.