1848-1929: Maritcha Lyons

A Young African-American Girl Helped Desegregate the Providence Public Schools in 1866

Maritcha Lyons was an African-American teacher, writer, and activist who testified before the General Assembly as a 16-year-old girl to desegregate the Providence Public School System. In 1869, she was the first African-American to graduate from Providence High School.

Lyons was born in New York City in 1848. During the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, Black people, homes and businesses were targeted and attacked, including Maritcha's family. The Lyons fled the city, ultimately resettling in Providence. Her father made and sold ice cream and other frozen desserts and her mother was a hairdresser. They lived at 16 B Street, two doors down from the celebrated painter Edward Mitchell Bannister and his wife, Christina Bannister, also a successful hairdresser and activist. The Providence public school system was segregated at the time, and there was no high school for students of color. Black community leaders like George T. Downing had petitioned for equal access to the city's schools for years, but the requests did not gain traction until the end of the Civil War. Because of her testimony, Maritcha became the first African-American graduate of Providence High School in 1869. She went on to become a civic leader, educator, writer, and activist in Brooklyn, New York. Lyons supported African-American anti-lynching activist and journalist Ida B. Wells and co-founded the White Rose Mission in Brooklyn, New York, an organization that offered support to Black immigrants from the South and West Indies.

Maritcha Lyons died in Brooklyn in 1929.

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Map

98-2 A Street - Near, the Former 16 B Street, Providence, RI.