Green P. Russell and Jessie Reasor Zander Illuminate Berea’s Long-Standing Commitment to Education

As beneficiaries of Berea College’s commitment to interracial education, throughout the decades many Bereans have extended the legacy of education to others. This profile features two such alumni, one from the 1800s and one from the 1900s, who are representative of thousands of other teachers and educators who have carried Berea’s values into the wider world.

Green P. Russell


Berea graduate Green Pinckey Russell (1861-1936) was born on December 25, 1861 in Logan County, Kentucky, one of six children to free black parents, Green and Frances Russell. With the aid of his parents, Russell gained an early education through private tutors in Russellville, Kentucky, as there were no schools in rural Logan County for African-American students.

He entered Berea College in 1879, receiving high marks from Berea faculty in mathematics, natural sciences and oratory without peer. While a student at Berea from 1880-1897, he also taught school in Fayette County during the summers. In 1894, while training to become a lawyer, Russell also became the first African-American to take the State Teachers Examination, receiving a grade of 91. His first teaching job was in Chilesburg, Kentucky, where he very successfully taught and furthered construction of a black public school. This was followed by his unanimous selection as president of Lexington’s only black elementary school, which he later expanded to Lexington’s first black high school.

In 1894, in recognition of his excellence as a teacher, Russell became Supervisor of Lexington’s Colored Schools, and on March 31, 1895, Mayor H. T. Duncan and the Lexington City Council renamed the “Fourth Street Colored School” to “Russell School” in his honor. As a renowned teacher and promoter of black education, Green embraced Booker T. Washington’s educational philosophy of manual and industrial arts for African-American students. Russell lectured and advised black school systems in many of America’s leading cities.

After graduation from Berea, Green aided John H. Jackson, an 1874 Berea College graduate, in developing a comprehensive plan to educate Kentucky’s black children. On September 30, 1912, the Trustees of Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute for Colored Persons named Russell as the fourth president of the college, which became Kentucky State University. Russell served as president from 1912 to 1923, and again from 1924-1929, making Russell one of four Berea College graduates to serve as president of Kentucky State University.

Following his tenure at Kentucky State University, Russell moved from Frankfort to Waukegan, Illinois, where he once again worked in public schools and participated in local politics until his death in 1936. Russell was recognized (posthumously) by Berea College in 2008 at Founders Day.

Jessie Reasor Zander

Jessie Reasor Zander has the distinction of being the first African-American graduate of Berea College after Kentucky’s infamous “Day Law” was amended. The Day Law had forced segregation on Berea College and all schools in Kentucky from 1904 until it was amended in 1950 and eventually rescinded in the 1954 Supreme Court decision (Brown v. Board of Education) that revoked “separate but equal” laws in the United States. The change in the law paved the way for Berea College to once again admit African-American students, such as Jessie.

As one of the first in her family to go to college, Zander graduated from Berea in 1954, majoring in Elementary Education. She went on to be a teacher, school administrator and poet, touching the lives of thousands of students during her career in Kentucky and Arizona, as well as through her worldwide travels to various continents and many nations.

During her distinguished 30-year career with the Tucson Unified School District, she continued her education at the University of Arizona where she earned her M.ED in Elementary Education, M.ED in Guidance and Counseling and later Supervisory and Administration Certification. In addition to classroom teaching, her various roles included serving as a counselor with the Special Education Department and as principal of three schools in the Tucson Unified School District.

While her career was focused on education, she has held numerous professional memberships and community service and board positions such as Chairperson for St. Mark’s Mission Focus on Race and the Justice Program, Funeral Consumers Alliance of Southern Arizona Speakers Bureau and other organizations. After her husband’s death and her retirement in 1989, she returned to Virginia and Kentucky, documenting a traveling exhibit of Black Churches for the African American Cultural Center. She also spent a term in the Berea College Department of Education and she served as Education Consultant for the Carter G. Woodson Institute over three summers.

Her travels have taken her to Australia, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand and twice to South Africa – to study the Truth and Reconciliation process and again as part of a “blitz” building effort in a village outside Capetown.

She has distinguished herself as an award-winning poet. Other accolades include the Berea College Service Award (1992), Berea College Alumni Loyalty Award (1991), Carter G. Woodson Award, St. Mark’s 2000 Women on the Move Nomination (1990 and 2001), the Shorter Lifetime Achievement Award, University of Arizona Black Alumni Phenomenal Woman Award (2002) and YWCA 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.

As a very active alumna of Berea College, she has provided leadership to the Berea chapter in Arizona, and has returned to her alma mater on numerous occasions where she is an honorary member of the Black Music Ensemble. During Homecoming 2015, she was the featured speaker at the dedication program for Education Studies that marked the restoration of Knapp Hall, which she helped to underwrite.

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Categories: News, People
Tags: alumni, Green P. Russell, interracial education, Jessie Reasor Zander

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.