Woman of the Week

Woman of the Week
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Education For a Higher Calling

A Washington DC native born in 1893, Eva Beatrice Dykes was one of three African American women who, all in 1921, were the first African American women to received their PhDs. Her degree was in English from Radcliffe College at Harvard, where she had also received a Masters and second Bachelors after completing a Bachelors at Howard University. With this distinction Eva could have chosen one of a few unprecedented paths before her but in keeping with her character chose to pursue a life of service to her people and God. A devout Seventh Day Adventist member Eva was guided by her desire to be the best she could be in service to others through God's will.

The defining aspects of her life were her trail blazing academic accomplishments and her involvement in the development of the Seventh-Day Adventist church for black members. In fact her acceptance of a teaching position at Howard University was contingent on their understanding her religious obligations which included keeping the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. In addition to this she helped form the National Association for the Advancement of World-wide Work Among Colored Seventh-day Adventists on October 16, 1943 to address racial discrimination in the SDA church.

This religious dedication permeated her whole life and most remarkable about her career path is the selfless way she choose to resign her position at Howard University in D.C. and take up permanent tenure at a small black Seventh Day Adventist college in Huntsville, Alabama. This happened in1944. A time when Huntsville had little to recommend it in comparison to the nation's capital. But she believed it was the greater need and therefore the path of greater service to God and her people. Her move to Oakland facilitated its move to becoming an accredited college. This answer to a higher call to a purpose driven life influenced her choices and goals as she believed that it was only when you resisted God that you remained nothing.

She was also considered a child prodigy who was gifted as a pianist and organist. She founded at Oakland College (now Oakland University) the Aeolian Choral Group in 1946, which performed Handel's Messiah and presently performs a range of music from the Baroque era to the twentieth century as well as Negro spirituals and work songs. The choir has since achieved world wide fame and performed at the Kennedy Center in D.C. , Good Morning America and several concerts in the US, Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Romania, Poland and UK

Dedicating over half a century to education and writing articles and books she was recognized for work as an educator and wrote the book "The Negro in English Romantic Thought." She died in Huntsville, Alabama on Oct. 29th, 1986 at 93 years of age.

You can learn more about Eva Beatrice Dykes by reading the book "She fulfilled the Impossible Dream" by Dewitt S. Williams, and visiting the Oakland University website.