Lily Ann Granderson

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Lily Ann Granderson, born a slave in Virginia in 1816, was a pioneering educator.[1][2] Lily Ann’s grandmother was a free woman of Native American descent.[1][2] However, after the death of her grandmother, Lily’s Ann’s mother was sold into slavery at three years of age. Later on in Lily Ann’s life, she was moved to Kentucky and worked as a house slave because of her fair skin. Little was known about Lily Ann’s father. All that is known is that he is a white man that was from one of the First Families of Virginia (FFV). Lily Ann and the master’s family became quite close. The master’s children even taught Lily Ann how to read and write,[1] a common method used by enslaved people to gain literacy, following her successful attempts to persuade them.[3]

Tragedy struck for Lily Ann when her master died and she was shipped down the river to Mississippi where she was sold to another slave master.[4] On this plantation Lily Ann worked in the fields, something she was not accustomed to. In fact, while working in the hot fields of Mississippi, Lily Ann grew ill. Lily Ann begged the slave master to remove her from the field and place her somewhere where the work wasn’t so hard on her health. After much begging, the slave master allowed Lily Ann to work in the kitchen at his home. The slave master’s home was not located directly on the plantation, it was located in town. So everyday, Lily Ann had to make the trip into town but it was a lot better than working in the fields from sun up to sun down.

Going into town allowed Lily Ann to begin her own school. However, it was against the law in Mississippi to educate slaves out of fear of rebels and runaways. To get around this, Lily Ann held classes late at night and enslaved children would sneak out to attend the class. The class size was limited to twelve children at a time.[1] After the children learned how to read and write, they “graduated” and then there was room for twelve more children. Lily Ann operated this class for about seven years without being discovered.[1] Unfortunately, word leaked out about this late night class for slaves.[4] To much surprise, there was no penalty for Lily Ann’s actions. Although there is a law against the education of slaves, there was a clause in this Mississippi law that Lily Ann had unknowingly stumbled upon. It is against Mississippi law for whites and free slaves to educate another slave, but there is nothing in the law book about one slave educating another slave.[4] As a result of this clause, Lily Ann turned around and opened a Sabbath school in addition to her late night school.[4] Through her efforts, hundreds of students became literate and were able to use their literacy to acquire freedom.[3]

Later on Lily Ann got married and had two children. The last that is known of Lily Ann is that she was one of the first blacks to open an account at the Freedman’s Bank at 54 years of age.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Schneider, Dorothy; Schneider, Carl J. (2007). Slavery in America (Revised edition. ed.). New York: Facts On File. p. 363. ISBN 0816062412. 
  2. ^ a b c Behrend, Justin. "Lily Ann Granderson". Slavery in America. Archived from the original on 6 December 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Hine, Darlene Clark (1998). A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America. New York: Broadway Books. p. 74. ISBN 0-7679-0110-X. 
  4. ^ a b c d Haviland, Laura S (1882). A woman's life-work labors and experiences of Laura S. Haviland. Cincinnati: Walden & Stowe. pp. 300–301. 
  • Laura S. Haviland, A Woman's Life-Work: Labors and Experiences of Laura S. Haviland (by the author, 1881; reprint, Salem, New Hampshire: AYER Co., 1984), 300-301.
  • David Freedman, "African-American Schooling in the South Prior to 1861," The Journal of Negro History 84 (Winter, 1999), 21.