Black teacher Bernice Bass impacts Racine – Racine County Eye

25September 2020


A former Racine citizen recalls her childhood instructor in the Historical Racine Forever Facebook group. The online group has almost 8,000 members and shares content about life in Racine. One member, Judy Collins, was seeking to connect with others who remember their first-grade instructor, Bernice Bass. Mrs. Bass was one of the first, if not the first, female African American teacher in the area.

“Mrs. Bernice Bass had a strong and positive influence on how, as kids of color, we saw ourselves in a school environment that did not look like us. She motivated academic excellence from all of her trainees,” Collins writes.

The response to the post was frustrating. Previous Howell Elementary School and Racine students stepped forward to share their educational experiences as kids. Mrs. Bass was an instructor in the Racine location for about 3 years. In addition to Judy Collins, Bernice Bass Abner and Harry Bass share their mother's journey to Racine as a way to give insight to other teachers.

Moving North to Racine

Bernice Bass on her graduation day from Spelman College According to Bernice's kids, Mrs. Bass's teaching profession began at 15 years of ages, even before she had a degree.

The Bass household resided in Little Rock, Arkansas, prior to concerning Racine in 1958. Mrs. Bass received her Bachelor's degree from Spelman College and her Master's degree from the University of Arkansas. Spelman College is a Historically Black University and College(HBCU) and worldwide leader in the education of ladies of African descent. She was pursuing her Doctorate however was unable to finish it due to family scenarios.

Weding Reverend William Harry Bass was notable because it was uncommon to be a black college-educated couple, in Racine, Wisconsin, in the 1950s. Her partner was a minister and an activist. His days of advocacy included being the executive director of the Urban League in Little Rock. Click to find out more about the Urban League here. Mrs. Bass supported her husband's activism. Together, they were leaders.

Leading the Little Rock Nine

Bernice Bass was gladly married to a man whose work greatly affected her profession areas. As an educator, Mrs. Bass valued her hubby's efforts to end partition in public schools. Reverend Bass was one of two ministers to escort the Little Rock Nine to school. To find out more about the Little Rock Nine, click here.

In 1957, Little Rock Central High School was one of the very first schools to implement the 1954 Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka order. This decision drew nationwide attention to the civil rights movement and ended public school segregation. The members of the Bass household contributed in

blazing a trail towards integration.”As a result of my father's involvement leading the Little Rock Nine, he got death dangers. My sis had no place to go to school because they were closed in September of 1958, since government authorities did not wish to carry out the Supreme Court choice. The high schools were closed. There were two reasons to leave” says their child, Harry Bass. The Methodist Bishop decided to move his household to Racine. The move was the right choice, even if it was difficult for the kids to understand.

Mentor in Racine

Starting in January of 1959, Bernice Bass began her mentor profession in Racine. Judy Collins remained in Mrs. Bass' first grade class throughout her second year of teaching at Howell Elementary in 1961. The school is no longer working today.

The school was named after Richard P. Howell. He was an immigrant, carpenter, business person and political leader. Howell was a member on the Racine Board of Education. He was advocate of constructing a brand-new school on, what was, then the western edge of town. The dream was fulfilled. Mrs. Bass' class was on the very first floor, left wing, facing Washington Avenue at Valley Drive.

The Bass children likewise participated in Racine Unified School District schools. Harry Bass participated in Garfield Elementary and Washington Junior High School while his sister, also called Bernice, went to Horlick High School. Bernice Bass Abner remembers being one of the few black children at her brand-new school.

Bernice Bass Abner was that she felt like a grain of pepper in a mountain of salt. She changed, but that was her initial response of a high school girl transitioning from a segregated school to the integrated system in Racine. Abner graduated in 1961.

Throughout Mrs. Bass's personal life and professional profession, people saw her as a black lady. However her story was special, and her students appreciated her. Judy Collins may have been young at the time, but Mrs. Bass made an enduring impression on her that would last a lifetime. It was the mindset that Mrs. Bass had that made an impression on children. Mrs. Bass never let her skin color determine her course; she paved her method.

Bernice Bass Headshot Discrimination in the Schools When partition, bigotry, and inequality prevailed, this teacher took the high road. Collins remembers checking out curriculum that was racist and dishonest. Schoolchildren felt feelings of disappointment when seeing graphic illustrations in books such as”

The Tar Baby.”Institutional racism affected both Collins and Mrs. Bass' kids. “Mrs. Bass would teach us to read the words, but not to value to the material,” a lesson that Collins learned as a student. Bernice and Harry agreed that their mom would not let discrimination manage their lives.

Also, Mrs. Bass expected the very best from her students. She was always favorable and prominent. Mrs. Bass formed a close friendship with Mrs. Jeane Staaf, another educator at Howell Elementary. TIt was an example of joining those of various races. Collins will never forget the actions Mrs. Bass took as a black educator.

Leaving Racine

Bernice Bass and her family left Racine after 3 and a half years. Reverend Bass' advocacy efforts earned him a position with the John F. Kennedy Administration. Reverend Bass also worked alongside Gaylord Nelson. Mrs. Bass went on to teach in Washington, DC and, Montgomery County, Maryland. She took her experiences from Little Rock, Arkansas and Racine, Wisconsin and formed the Montgomery County's program for kids with Specific Learning Disabilities. There was no doubt that she saw abilities in every kid. Her career as a teacher ended in 1964, retiring as a Supervisor of Special Education, after almost 50 years in education.

Lasting Impact Beyond School

Judy Collins was one of numerous trainees that Mrs. Bass taught. However, Ms. Bass'effect never ever left this particular student. For years, Collins considered her previous teacher and the impression this instructor had on her life. It wasn't up until recently that Collins discovered that Mrs. Bernice Bass had passed away at the age of 103.

Collins followed in her educator's footsteps, ending up being college informed as well. Then life took Collins to the Washington DC location. In discussions between the Bass kids and Judy Collins, they found that they just live 30 minutes from each other.

Collins says “All these years, she's been with me. My teacher was constantly there for me, even when I didn't know it.”

Sharing Stories

The Bass Children and Judy Collins plan to fulfill for a lunch date, when it is safe to do so. Due to COVID-19, they are keeping their range physically. For now, Judy Collins, Bernice Bass Abner, and Harry Bass converse by phone sharing memories of their greatest teacher.

Teacher of the Week

If there is a Racine teacher who has greatly affected your life, share that story with the Racine County Eye. The Local Media Foundation is raising funds to support Racine County Eye efforts to inform the public on education-related issues. Together with this, stories like Ms. Bass will be published weekly to honor an Educator.

We are likewise dedicated to supplying resource pages for moms and dads looking for psychological health and covering the effect of COVID-19 on education in Racine. To see our COVID-19 details, click here. For psychological health resources, visit this tab here.

To contribute to this specific fund, click here for the fundraiser page. Our goal is set at 10,000. Can you help?

Nominate an educator to be the Educator of the Week by sending a form here. Contact Emma Widmar at to learn more.

In addition to our education functions, we'll be beginning a series of stories highlighting how moms and dads, trainees, and educators are adjusting to the effect of COVID-19 on education. If this is very important to you, please consider donating to our education reporting fund.

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