Remembering Julian Bond

Julian Bond passed away this past Saturday, August 15th. Bond’s life was one of change-making and service to others, as exemplified by his leadership on the Georgia State House of Representatives and the Georgia State Senate, as well as in his role as President of the NAACP. Additionally, he was an author, an educator, an anti-war activist, and was the narrator of the PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize, about the civil rights movement.

Julian Bond

Julian Bond. Image courtesy of Berea College Archives.

Bond’s family had connections to Berea. His grandfather, James Bond, was an 1892 graduate of Berea and served as a Trustee from 1896 to 1914. Julian Bond gave the address for Berea’s 149th Commencement, in addition to giving an address to Berea College students and faculty as part of the College’s observance of Black History Month, September 14, 1975. A sound recording of that address can be found below:


Mary E. Britton

In honor of Black History month we would like to dedicate an article about Mary E. Britton (1855-1925) who was a student at Berea College from c1870-1874. A public school teacher and activist, Britton later earned a medical degree and became the first African-American female doctor in the state of Kentucky, practicing in Lexington.Mary Eleanor Britton

Mary Eleanor Britton was born 1855 on Mills Street, in current Lexington’s Gratz Park Historical District, in Kentucky. Her parents, Laura Marshall and Henry Harrison Britton, were both free African Americans living in a slave state of Kentucky. Her father was a carpenter. Her mother, Laura Marshall, was a freed slave of a biracial ancestry, whose father was a well-known Kentucky public official Thomas F. Marshall. Britton’s mother Laura was a well-educated, intelligent woman, and a talented singer and a musician. Laura encouraged and instilled love for education, music and public service in both of her daughters from an early age. In short, her family was well respected, honored and trustworthy within the circle of prominent and affluent Kentucky families

She grew up in Lexington and, along with his sister Julia Britton, studied at Mr. Gibson’s school for colored youths in Louisville, Kentucky. Although, she grew up as a free individual, her siblings and her still experienced and witnessed the racial discrimination and inequality towards the black Americans. Yet, she and her siblings received the best education one could only ask for in Kentucky. She attended Berea College, at that time called Berea Academy, from 1871-1874. Since at that time the only available and possible career studies for females of any race was teaching and nursing, Mary Britton and Julia Britton Hooks chose to study teaching. She and Julia graduated in 1874 as the first two African American woman graduates of Berea College. Their parents unexpectedly passed away one after the other before the sisters’ graduation. Thus, after her graduation, Mary Britton sought employment as a teacher in order to support herself financially. In 1876, first she taught in Chilesburg, Kentucky and later continued teaching within the Lexington public school system.

Yet, although employed Mary did not stop pursuing her higher education, and attended and graduated with a medical degree from the American Missionary College situated in Chicago, Illinois. Since she had a great interest in medicine, she also studied at Howard Medical School in Washington D.C., and at Meharry Medical College of Nashville, Tennessee. Britton then started practicing medicine from her Lexington home. She specialized in hydrotherapy and electrotherapy, and by 1902, she became Lexington’s first African American woman physician licensed to practice medicine. Due to Jim Crow laws, the healthcare and medical treatment became even less easily available for African Americans at white hospitals.  Thus, Britton made it possible for African Americans and treated her patients by using water and electricity.

Mary Britton work

Mary E. Britton treated patients from her home. Photo by Tom Eblen

Mary Britton was extremely active in public life of her community. For instance, she actively participated in Suffrage Movement, and later served as the president of Woman’s Improvement Club, which aimed at improving women’s social status, living conditions and economic improvements. In 1877, as a member of the Kentucky Negro Education Association she worked hard to help improve African Americans’ living conditions through legislative action. Moreover, from 1892 she served as the founding director of the Colored Orphan Industrial Home, which was an organization that, in collaboration with the Ladies Orphan Society, helped impoverished orphans and homeless elderly women with food, clothing, housing accommodation, receiving education and guidance on how they could eventually establish they lives. The building of that same Industrial Home is still present to this day as the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center and the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum. It is a building, which has served as a nursing home and hospital through an entire century.

Moreover, in her writings for the American Citizen, the Daily Transcript, Our Women and Children, and the Lexington Leader, Britton wrote against the Jim Crow segregation laws, against usage of alcohol and tobacco, and expressed the necessity for societal reformation. In 1892 edition of Kentucky Leader, Britton argued in against the passage of the Separate Coach Law that had been implemented the previous year. The Separate Coach Law required that Americans of different races ride in separate – precisely, segregated – train cars, which supposedly kept every race equal, but not together in unity. Thus, Britton campaigned against the idea that all the races could be equal as long as they remained separated.

Mary Britton’s courage and compassion served as an inspiration to many within and beyond her community. One of them was author and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who dedicated a lengthy, yet thoughtful poem to Ms. Britton titled simply “To Miss Mary Britton.” The poem’s third verse recited the following:

Give us to lead our cause

More noble souls like hers,

The memory of whose deed

Each feeling bosom stirs;

Whose fearless voice and strong

Rose to defend her race,

Roused Justice from her sleep,

Drove Prejudice from place.

Mary Britton was an educator, physician, a journalist and a civil rights activist, who fully dedicated herself for the good of her people. She is another individual, who has reached the peak with her dedication to social work and civil activism. Mary Britton was not the only one who became a distinguished humanitarian and civil rights activist of her time. Her sister Julia Britton Hooks, also a Berea College graduate and a music prodigy, was part of the Memphis branch of NAACP and a civil rights activist against the segregation in public schools. The two sisters worked together in their public service and activism, thus achieving much for the best of their respective communities. Britton’s brother, Tom Britton, was a jockey of a great fame and talent. In his career as a jockey, he won the Kentucky Oaks on his horse Miss Hawkins in 1891, and came second in Kentucky Derby on Huron in 1892.

Mary Britton died at the age of seventy in 1925. She was buried in Cove Haven Cemetery. She was yet another African American woman many years ahead of her time. Gerald Smith, a history professor at the University of Kentucky, described Mary Britton as the one who “came out of that Berea tradition of a teacher who becomes a social activist.” Mary Britton truly believed in and followed the mission of Berea College. She was the change, educated in Berea College, which the American society needed.

Mary Britton

Dr. Mary E. Britton is surrounded by men at this 1910 meeting of Kentucky physicians, dentists and pharmacists. Photo courtesy of Thomas Tolliver.


“Mary Britton was a woman ahead of her time.” The Bluegrass and Beyond. February 14, 2012. URL:

Applegate, Emily. “The Noble Soul of Mary E. Britton.” Berea College Magazine. URL:

Women in Kentucky – Health/Medicine. URL:

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. “To Miss Mary Britton.” In Oak and Ivy. Dayton, OH: Press of United Brethren Publishing House, 1893. URL:

Notable Black American Women, Book 2. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. 1996. URL:,+Mary+E.+Britton&source=bl&ots=gVARmkl9Zp&sig=Jf85q37NpCAC10LcJfrWtcuPK3A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ag1fUd3oEajZyQHUqYDICw&ved=0CF0Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=Berea%20College%2C%20Mary%20E.%20Britton&f=false

Kleber, John E. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. University Press of Kentucky, 1992. URL:–M0C&pg=PA125&lpg=PA125&dq=Dr.+Mary+E.+Britton&source=bl&ots=2OhIIWvWTT&sig=rRARaVmhMg6ymCqciB85bS1LYDE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dPJiUYG9HcKcqgGChoCICg&ved=0CGQQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=Dr.%20Mary%20E.%20Britton&f=false

Julia Britton Hooks

In honor of Black History month we would like to dedicate an article about one of many accomplished African-American alumna of Berea College – Julia Britton Hooks.Julia

Julia Britton Hooks was born on May 4th 1852 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Her full name is Julia Ann Amanda Moorhead Britton Hooks. Her parents, Laura Marshall and Henry Harrison Britton, were both free African Americans living in the slave state of Kentucky. Her father was a carpenter. Her mother, Laura Marshall, was a freed slave of a biracial ancestry, whose father was a well-known Kentucky public official, Thomas F. Marshall. Julia was exposed to and excelled in music from an early age. She discovered the world of music through her mother Laura, who was a well-educated, intelligent woman, as well as a talented singer and a musician. Laura encouraged and instilled love for education, music and public service in both of her daughters. She especially passed on her talent in music to Julia. In short, her family was well respected, honored and trustworthy within the circle of prominent and affluent Kentucky families.

Julia grew up in Lexington and, along with his sister Mary E. Britton, had the fortune of receiving a good education, first in Louisville at Mr. Gibson’s school for colored youths, and later studied music under the instruction of an English woman. Britton so skillfully and gracefully performed some of the most complex piano pieces by well-known composers that she, along with her mother, was invited to small concerts or gatherings organized for or by Kentucky’s aristocratic families and friends. Many, especially by the Kentucky press, recognized her as the “Wonder of the Age” due to her prodigal talent and knowledge in music.

In 1869, eighteen-year-old Julia Britton enrolled in Berea College in order to study music. She graduated as the second African American female graduate of Berea College in 1874. For two years following her graduation from Berea College, Julia Britton served as Berea’s first African American faculty member. She taught music due to her outstanding skill and knowledge in teaching music. In 1872, after her time in Berea, Julia Britton moved to Greenville, Mississippi. There she continued to teach in school and soon married Sam Wertles, who died the following year due to the yellow fever epidemic.

Julia Britton actively promoted and created opportunities in education for the black youth of the south. In 1883, along with Anna Church, she opened the Liszt-Mullard Club. With the creation of this club, she was able to raise money with which to provide musically gifted black students to study music on a scholarship. In 1892, in response to the poor public education that black youth received in Memphis, she founded the Hooks School of Music and the Hooks Cottage School, which mostly provided pre-school and elementary education. The Hooks School of Music produced distinguished student musicians such as Sidney Woodward, Nell Hunter, and W.C. Handy. However, youth were not the only group whom Julia Britton helped. In 1891, she was a charter member of the Orphan Home Club and the Colored Old Folks Home, both of which provided accommodation for orphans and elderly African American women. She taught and worked on improving public education in the states of Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee for almost twenty-eight years.

Britton’s life as a civil-rights activist began in Mississippi, where she participated in a successful campaign for Blanche K. Bruce’s election to serve as one of the first African American representatives at the U.S. Senate. Once Britton moved to Memphis Tennessee in 1876, she became more engaged in public service, education and civil rights movements. The same year she married her second husband, Charles Hooks. Together, they administered the detention home for young African American lawbreakers from 1902 until 1917 when one of the escaping young criminals killed her husband. Even after the tragic loss of her husband, she did not abandon the administration of the detention home; instead, she fully dedicated herself at advising and helping the troubled youth with their problems.

Britton Hooks disapproved of the Jim Crow segregation laws and actively protested against racism and inequality, which occasionally led to her being arrested and fined. In 1881, she was arrested at the Memphis Theater, because she refused to move to the segregated part of the audience seating section, from the “colored balcony” from the “white balcony” where she initially chose to sit. Since she was an educator, she also campaigned against the segregation of African American youth in classrooms of public schools.

In 1909, Britton became a member of the NAACP in Memphis, Tennessee. She took part in the suffrage movement and campaigned for women’s right to vote. Alongside her sister, she was the president of Women’s Improvement Club in Lexington. She had also met Ida B. Wells with whom she shared her passion, determination and dedication for justice, equality and big change. In 1895, the African American Encyclopedia published an article called “The Duty of the Hour” written by Julia Britton Hooks.

Julia Britton died on March 10th 1942 at the age of ninety. She has lived a long life with compassion, courage and strong belief in justice, equality and good education for everyone. Her legacy and example of commitment to public service and education lives on. Her legacy continues in the work of her grandson Benjamin Hooks, who served as an executive director of the NAACP for almost two decades from 1977 to 1992, as well as in the work of her two sons, Henry and Robert, both of whom became photographers and founded their own studio called the Hooks Brothers Photographers. Her sister Mary Britton was similarly politically involved. In addition to being an educator and medical physician, she was a vigorous civil activist, journalist and social worker. Julia’s brother, Tom Britton, was a jockey of a great fame and talent. In his career as a jockey, he won the Kentucky Oaks on his horse Miss Hawkins in 1891, and came second in Kentucky Derby on Huron in 1892.

Julia Britton Hooks dedicated herself and her life to social service work. Her compassionate attitude to help and serve her community is an exceptional example of Berea College’s mission. She was a devout Christian, a talented musician, a church choir director, an exemplary humanitarian, and a civil rights activist. She did not permit racial prejudice and inequality hold her down; instead, she worked hard to bring joy and peace through her music and public service. She holds an honored and respected position in Berea’s history, as well as in the history of Kentucky and Memphis, Tennessee.

Berea College awarded Julia Britton Hooks with the John G. Fee honorary award that many notable Berea alumni receive for their service and dedication to the community.


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