New Bedford Whaling Museum Grimshaw-Gudewicz Reading Room and Archives
Educator Alberta Mae Knox (1896-1991) was the first Black graduate from the newly built New Bedford High School in 1913, when she was elected class salutatorian by the faculty. A graduate of both Bridgewater Teacher’s College and Rutgers University, her teaching career spanned 45 years and included five years at Parker Street Grammar School in New Bedford, where she also served as president of the local NAACP.
Some teachers are born, not made. Alberta Mae Knox (1896-1991) was born to be a teacher. She completed 9th grade in 1909 at the Parker Street Grammar School in New Bedford and was the first Black student to graduate from the newly built New Bedford High School in 1913. Alberta was elected by New Bedford High School faculty as the salutatorian of her graduating class and was the winner of the Bourne Essay Prize ($15.00 in gold). She was already proving her excellence in education.
The roots of determination for a sound education were grounded in her early African American ancestry. Her great-grandaunt Harriet Jacobs was a slave, abolitionist and author. Her father William Jacob Knox graduated from Harvard with a BA in chemistry; her mother Estella Briggs was the founder of the New Bedford Education Club. Amongst her siblings were: Clinton E., former U.S. Ambassador; two noted Ph D. chemists, Lawrence H. and William Jacob Knox Jr.; and sister Estella B., Simmons College graduate and New Bedford Police Department Stenographer. Hers was a family whose foundation was built on a dedication to education.
After high school Alberta attended Bridgewater Teacher’s College where she was called Bertie. She joined the yearbook committee and in 1915 and 1916, Bertie was noted as the historian of her class. She graduated in 1916. She began her teaching in Brockton and Taunton, Massachusetts. Alberta returned to New Bedford to teach at the Parker Street Grammar School for five years, from 1920 through 1925.
Alberta married Boyd Brazile Eatmon. In addition to raising a family, she was president of the New Bedford Branch of the NAACP and continued her education. She graduated in the class of 1931 from Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. In 1935 she taught at the New Jersey Manual Training School, and later, at the Burlington New Jersey High School. Alberta continued to learn while educating others, earning her Teacher One certificate in 1951. She taught for 45 years and in 1961 the graduating class dedicated the Burlington City Public High School Yearbook to Alberta Knox Eatmon. It was not until 1961 that she retired.
She was on the Board of Trustees of the Visiting Homemaker & Health Services, Inc. in Burlington, New Jersey, 1965-1989; president of Burlington County Tuberculosis League; Board of Directors/member of the Delaware-Raritan Lung Association; president of the Burlington YWCA; elder in the Presbyterian Church; board member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW); member of the Delta Sigma Sorority; member of the New Jersey Education Association and the Retired Educators Association at the county, state and national levels.
Alberta is remembered as a master teacher. By reading the letters she saved from students, friends, colleagues and family, it is clear she was supportive of all. The adoration is clearly shown in the Knox Family Papers held by the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University. Words describing Alberta include: “Dedicated, dignified, quiet, firm, strict, high standards, conscientiousness, warm, unselfish, faithful, gracious, fair, energetic, tolerant, compassionate, wise advisor, encouraging, perseverance, softly musical voice, levelheaded, vehement.”
Ivy S. MacMahon
Amistad Research Center. Tulane University. Knox Family Papers, 1909-1989. http://amistadresearchcenter.tulane.edu/archon/?p=collections/controlcard&id=253. Accessed 13 Aug. 2019.
“Men of the Month.” The Crisis, vol. 14, no.1, May 1917, pp. 31-33. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
U.S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012. School Name: Bridgewater State Normal School; Year: 1916. Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.