Here witness the gathering of a small group of African American children celebrating Carnival in 1949. They did so as part of one of the city’s most cherished kindergartens. This was the Martinez Kindergarten School, founded in 1934, then the first and only pre-kindergarten school for African Americans in Louisiana.
Mildred Bernard Martinez (1905-1991) was its founder and longtime leader. She is remembered today for organizing a rigorous but also fun curriculum where children did not realize they were learning the basic concepts of phonics and math. She used her own teaching materials as well as others such one by the publishing firm Allyn and Bacon to teach reading. She also became beloved by her students who liked learning dancing at the school. This activity, she believed, taught self-control, muscular coordination, and self-assurance. Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis were among some of the notable individuals educated at the Martinez School.
Martinez’s collection at the Amistad Research Center, and a blog article that is part of the Nola4Women partnership, show something of her dedication and the wealth of information about her work as a teacher in the city. By extension the Amistad Research Center’s history of Martinez encourages others to think about the role of women in educating young children of the city.
In connection with honoring her as part of Nola4Women, we can also see that she was part of a wide network of women, and also honored by women in the city. She attended, for example, many predominantly women’s classes at the normal school for teachers in New Orleans, and at Hunter College and Columbia University, both in New York City. She was also president of Les Dames de Sept Douleurs (The Women of the Seven Sorrows), a 7th Ward women’s society. In terms of the many awards she received, all documented at the Amistad Research Center, one stands out: In 1986, she was named one of 100 “Women at the Forefront” of civic endeavor.
For more information on Martinez and other women, see the blog posts from the Amistad at http://www.amistadresearchcenter.org/blog. The newest of their remarkable insights into so many New Orleans women features another educator, Fannie C. Williams.