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Marion Thompson Wright

Image courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Department, Moorland-Springarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Image courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Department, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

African American historian and teacher Marion Thompson Wright (1902-1962) of Newark wrote her doctoral dissertation on “The Education of Negroes in New Jersey.”

As a result of her hard work and convincing thesis, Wright became the first black historian to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University. She documented varied patterns of school segregation that existed in the state despite a 1881 law that outlawed racial discrimination in public schools. Her study helped to provide the NAACP with hard data in its court challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine. Which was overturned by the Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling in Topeka, Kansas.

A native of East Orange, Wright worked for several years as a case supervisor for the Newark Department of Public Welfare. She later joined the faculty at Howard University and became a full professor there in 1950. She is noted as a historian of African Americans in New Jersey.

Questions to Explore

What struggles did Wright go through as a black woman while attempting to earn a Ph.D.?

How is Wright’s historical research still important today?

What was Wright’s family life like? How did this influence her education and career?

Additional Resources

Smith Crocco M. 1997. “Mary Ritter Beard and Marion Thompson Wright: Shaping Inclusive Social Education.” Theory and Research in Social Education 9–33. https://www.worldcat.org/title/199271690

Daniel Walter G. 1963. “A Tribute to Marion Thompson Wright.” The Journal of Negro Education 308–10 https://www.worldcat.org/title/5545424771

Momodu, Samuel. “Marion Thompson Wright (1902-1962) .” BlackPast, December 8, 2016. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/wright-marion-thompson-1902-1962/.