Pulitzer Prize-winning Black woman dedicates school named for her in district she integrated

Annette Gordon-Reed's most recent book, "On Juneteenth," tells her own family history as she grew up in Conroe, Texas, and integrated its school district.

Loading the player...

A Black race expert who holds a Pulitzer Prize and has a new elementary school named in her honor took a trip to Montgomery, Texas, on Thursday to dedicate the institution.

According to The Houston Chronicle, Gordon-Reed Elementary School bears the name of Annette Gordon-Reed, who integrated the Conroe Independent School District, 58 years ago. About 200 community members attended the official dedication event on the campus in Montgomery, approximately 55 miles outside of Houston, which featured the unveiling of a painting of Gordon-Reed to be displayed at the entryway.

While she was pleased to be able to walk the halls of the school with husband Robert Reed, a judge on the New York State Supreme Court, at her side, Gordon-Reed, 63, wished her parents — especially her mother — could have been there.

Gordon-Reed Elementary School in Montgomery, Texas, bears the name of Annette Gordon-Reed (above), who integrated the Conroe Independent School District 58 years ago. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com/Learning for Justice)

“This is really about the two of them. It is particularly about my mother, who put so much time and energy and faith into me,” Gordon-Reed said in her remarks during the ceremony, The Chronicle reported. “It is hard to imagine anybody working any harder, or believing in anybody more fiercely, than she did.”  

The institution’s doors first opened on August 10. With a maximum enrollment of 1,000 students, Gordon-Reed Elementary has approximately 600 youngsters in attendance right now, in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Gordon-Reed received the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2009 for “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” which was praised for carefully casting a new light on the relationship between Sally Hemings and her master, Thomas Jefferson. She was the first Black woman to win in that category.

Gordon-Reed is said to be one of the nation’s leading experts on racial issues, and her most recent book, “On Juneteenth,” marks the first time she has written about her own family’s past. It describes life growing up in Conroe and how her family observed the former Jubilee Day, the country’s first commemoration of the abolition of slavery.

“She has come from being the first African American person in her school in Conroe, to Harvard, to Pulitzer Prize, it’s really coming full circle,” said Trina Reed Robertson, Gordon-Reed’s niece, who traveled from Austin for Thursday’s event, according to The Chronicle. “I think it’s wonderful that this is a tribute that she actually gets to enjoy. Something that we all get to enjoy with her.” 

Gordon-Reed’s family relocated to Conroe, Texas, when she was about six months old, where her mother worked as a teacher at the local Black school, Booker T. Washington. In 1964, Gordon-Reed attended Anderson Elementary School, where she became the institution’s first Black student, leading to the integration of the entire Conroe school system.

Unlike Ruby Bridges, Gordon-Reed did not have a police escort to school, but her family did receive threats when she integrated Anderson, prompting her father to drive her to school daily.

“There was a bus that I could have taken to school, but I think that was considered just a bit much — you know, tempting fate, taking it too far,” Gordon-Reed said, according to The Chronicle. “So my father drove me to school and dropped me off. I went in as if this were the normal thing to do.”

Samantha Hunter-Gibbs, the White House Historical Association’s director of K–12 education, also showed up to offer her congratulations to Gordon-Reed. The association is presenting the school library with some children’s books about the White House in Gordon-Reed’s honor.

Mary Cue, an NAACP member and a career computer instructor at Stockton Junior High, plans to prepare a presentation about Gordon-Reed for her students that she will also share with the Stockton history department. Her objective in attending the dedication Thursday, though, was to obtain the prolific author’s autograph on her 2008 book, “The Hemingses of Monticello.”

“That’s a historical landmark,” Cue said of the new school, according to The Chronicle. “You have a person that has graduated from the area, from the community, and she’s a person of color, and our culture looks up to her. So now, we can tell all our children, no matter what your race is, this school was [named after] an alumni, and now she’s graduated, and she’s a big professor on the east coast. 

Montgomery is about a 30-minute drive west of Conroe. As part of a project by the Montgomery County Literary Arts Council, a bust of Gordon-Reed was erected in Conroe’s Founders Plaza in 2019 to honor her contributions to the community.

The most recent Census data shows that around 10% of the city’s population is Black, The Chronicle reported.

“Celebrating this school’s namesake for Conroe’s very own, Annette Gordon-Reed, symbolizes the many strides that our great community has made,” said Datren Williams, the only Black member on Conroe ISD’s Board of Trustees, noted The Chronicle. “It has both an honor and privilege to have been a small part of this momentous dedication.”

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!

Loading the player...