In celebration of Black History Month, we will be profiling Black educators in our series, Black Excellence in Education. This week we highlight higher education pioneer, Inez Beverly Prosser.
Inez Beverly Prosser always had education in her veins. She was born the first daughter out of 11 children in south Texas around December 1895 (her exact birthday is unknown). She excelled in school from an early age, graduating valedictorian of Yoakum Colored School in 1910. Her parents only had enough money to send one of their children to college, and initially had chosen her older brother, Leon. But Leon convinced their parents to let Prosser take his place instead. She attended and earned a two-year teaching certificate from the historically black college, Prairie A&M University, in 1913.
Prosser spent the next few years teaching in black elementary schools and high schools in the Austin area. Segregation laws in Texas barred her from the state’s graduate programs, forcing her to seek out a master’s degree in the University of Colorado. Since Prosser did not have a bachelor’s degree, she concurrently took undergraduate courses while in graduate school and teaching in Texas. She earned her master’s degree in education in 1927.
Following her master’s program, Prosser began teaching in Tilloston College in Austin before transferring to Tougaloo College near Jackson, Mississippi in 1930. She soon took a leave of absence to pursue a doctorate in the University of Cincinnati.
Her dissertation, titled “Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools,” found that black students performed better in segregated schools compared their peers in integrated institutions. Kids from integrated schools reported greater social maladjustment, insecurity and dissatisfaction with their teacher and family relationships. Prosser’s findings were especially important in the time leading to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, showing the impact of prejudice in the classroom and the importance of good teachers in children’s development.
Prosser returned to Tougaloo after earning her PhD in 1933. She became the first African-American women to earn a doctorate in psychology. Prosser was especially interested in the role of psychology in improving black elementary and high school education. She wrote seven articles beginning in 1933 for the Mississippi Educational Journal on teaching English skills.
Prosser was also a vocal advocate for black students in higher education, helping raise funds for their college and graduate studies. She even encouraged her own siblings in their education, with all eleven of them graduating from high school and six earning college degrees.
Prosser remained close to her family throughout her life. On a trip from Mississippi to Texas, she was killed in a car accident near Shreveport, Louisiana in 1934. She was around 38 years old. Prosser was buried in San Antonio with her tombstone reading, “How many hopes lie buried here.”