A Southern Black Educator Can Only Dream so Much?

In a nutshell, Ms. Felton went from being an assistant principal to councilor, from working in a high school to a middle school and from being employed to unemployed just because she wanted to become a principal.

[On The Spot]

Elizabeth City, North Carolina, is a small town in the South and one’s race still matters, regardless of an educational background.

With an African American president in the White House you would think these types of acts would change – but in the past three years, when it involved race it seems to have gotten worse. Racism appears to be on the rise in the United States of America.

Mary Felton worked as a school administrator at the Edenton Chowan School and received high praises for her work – until she applied for a vacant principal position at John A. Holmes High School where she worked for five years as the Assistant Principal. Ms. Felton, an African American woman, would soon learn her race would become the only factor that blocked her from getting an interview for the principal position.

The South is still not a place where you can climb the ladder on an even playing field. Ms. Felton, an educational administrator, and a role model to the students – dared to dream of becoming a principal. What we did not know, John A. Holmes High School never had a woman as principal in its history. So for Mary to come along – not only wanting to be the first woman principal, but also the first African American woman principal as well. This surely would have been momentous, just like when we witnessed President Barack Obama being elected into office, and someone did not want this to happen for Ms. Felton.

Ms. Felton is qualified for the principal’s position and has the North Carolina’s teachers’ and administrative licenses to back it up. “I sat down with Allan T. Smith, the Superintendent and asked him, what ‘am I lacking for a principal interview?” Mary recalled.  “I have the same license he has and I told him, one day I would like to have your job.” 

There were no red flags for Ms. Felton to see and on May 12, 2009, Mr. Smith would give her a letter of reference saying: “It is my pleasure to recommend Ms. Mary Lyons for the position of school principal. Ms. Lyons is a strong candidate for such a position at any level.”  (Ms. Felton has had a name change since this letter)

The letter goes on to expound on Ms. Felton’s excellence to the end.  However, a month later, Ms. Felton received a letter from Mr. Smith on June 18th, informing her of being transferred from the high school, and demoted from her assistant principal position to a Career Development Coordinator in the middle school; this was called, “a lateral transfer,” by Mr. Smith.   

What Mr. Smith’s letter was clearly saying, ‘you can be a principal, but not at Holmes High School.’  One has to ask, had Mr. Smith previously been lying?  A lot was going on at this time and were there other hidden elements involved in Ms. Felton’s case? 

The school board headed by Mr. Richard A. Browder, Jr. — who also supported everything Mr. Smith did– approved the hiring of an out of state candidate from Wisconsin calling her the best qualified candidate for the job.  “In regard to the selection of the principal, following a fair selection procedure, the school system hired the best qualified candidate to fill the vacant principal position at John A Holmes School in 2010.  Ms. Felton was not the best qualified,” Mr. Smith has written in an email response. 

Ms. Felton did not get an interview, which created a direct bias to the process from start.

It is not clear whether the school board waved North Carolina educational law for this outside candidate because she appeared not to have had the proper North Carolina license before being hired on June 1st.  However, according to a human resources department document, “principals must hold NC Principal Licensure.”  The “best qualified candidate,” North Carolina license did not clear until February 22, 2010, seven months after being hired. 

It was not an easy ride to the top for Ms. Felton.  She worked hard to get what she has and for what she achieved.  “My mother passed away when I was two years old and I was raised by a grandmother who could not read or write and signed her name with an, ‘X,’” she recalls.  “I lived in public housing and at the age of seventeen I went into the Job Corps and earned my GED.”

Ms. Felton holds the School Administrator – Superintendent license, the School Administrator – Principal license, the Curriculum Instructional Specialist license and a Vocational Business Education license (grades 6-12), these licenses were not given to her because she is an African American woman, they were not given to her for being a nice person.  They were given to her because she earned them and all she wanted was an interview for a vacant principal position, which she was denied because of her race.

Ms. Felton’s grandmother would not have taken this type of treatment sitting down and Mary braced herself to fight for what is hers, and to prove that there are still some people in policy making position and control, who will not change along the lines of race here in the twenty-first century.  “We tell our children to get a good education and the doors of opportunity will be open to them.  But when you get that education, they go and change the locks,” Ms. Felton stated.

There is so much more to this story and I will continue to bring it in light. The action taken against Ms. Felton was a classic attempt to violate the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) laws under title seven. After filing the first charge, Ms. Felton had to file three more and this did not stop her from being terminated.

Ineffective attorneys and many different agencies played a role in this case from the EEOC to the North Carolina District Attorney’s Office.  

In a nutshell, Ms. Felton went from being an assistant principal to counsellor, from working in a high school to a middle school and from being employed to unemployed just because she wanted to become a principal. 

God Bless America.

More to come.
If you have any comments contact Winkfield ([email protected]) or for his consideration regarding covering your own story.  Write to [email protected] or call 646-387-8964 or mail to: On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423.  Together we can get the justice everyone just talks about.

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