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Biography of Caroline LeCount

Caroline LeCount newspaper clipping
Click for larger version. Via Villanova University Library.

Read one of the few biographies of Caroline LeCount, part of Villanova University’s library exhibit on the Institute for Colored Youth.

Charles Barkley's
Black History Month All Stars

All Star #8: Caroline LeCount

I speak at a lot of schools across the country, and I’ve encountered a trend that drives me freakin’ nuts. I always ask students the following question:

“How many of you want to be a professional athlete or a rapper?”

At inner-city, mostly African American schools, nearly every hand shoots up. When I ask the same question in a white suburban school, maybe 10 percent of hands are raised. I speak to a lot of schools, and this happens without fail.

I tell black kids all the time, “You ain’t gonna be me.” Even if you’re any good on the court, the odds are stacked against you. But I can tell from the blank way they look back at me: They’re putting all their eggs in this totally unlikely basket. But I get why. Young black kids get from the media an unrealistic picture of African American success. Athletes and rappers, with Denzel and Oprah thrown in.

So to mark Black History Month here at The Citizen, I’m going to introduce you every day to my Philadelphia Black History Month All-Stars. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing.

08

Caroline LeCount

Teacher/Civil Rights Activist

Caroline LeCount

Teacher/Civil Rights Activist

(1846 - January 24, 1923)

A teacher in Frankford, LeCount was Philly’s Rosa Parks 100 years before the Montgomery bus boycott, defiantly riding street cars and filing petitions to have a law against black riders repealed. With her fiance Octavius Catto, she kept up the fight even after the law was changed: When a conductor refused to stop for her, LeCount—just 21 at the time—filed a complaint with the police, eventually forcing the driver to pay a $100 fine. She also pushed for the rights of African-American teachers and students, standing up to the school board of the Wilmot Colored School to insist a black colleague become principal because “colored children should be taught by their own,” reports noted. She herself later became only the second African American female principal of a public school.

EDUCATION:

  • The Institute of Colored Youth (now Cheyney University)

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

  • Secretary  of the Ladies’ Union Association, which sent aid to wounded black soldiers during the Civil War
  • Ohio Street School teacher for 50 years
  • One of the leaders in the successful fight to integrate horse-drawn streetcars
  • Filed complaint that fined $100 to a conductor who didn’t allow her to board streetcar
  • Noted orator

 

FINAL WORD:

“Henceforward,” an editorial said, after LeCount’s victory in court, “the wearied schoolteacher, returning from her arduous day’s labor, shall not be condemned to walk to her distant home through cold and heat and storm.”

Home page image: Reaching For Your Star © 2003 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Don Gensler. Photo by Jack Ramsdale

Headshot courtesy of History Making Productions.

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