9 Things to Know about Brockport’s First BIPOC Graduate

Get to know Fannie Barrier Williams, the College’s first African-American graduate, and learn how her legacy is still impacting us today.
Image of Fannie Barrier Williams


Fannie Barrier Williams didn’t just go to college in Brockport — she was born here. 
Fannie Barrier Williams was born in Brockport in 1855. Her childhood home still stands today at 57 Erie Street. 


Williams graduated from the Brockport Normal School in 1870. 
In doing so, she became Brockport’s first African-American graduate. Normal Schools focused on teacher training, so Williams graduated with a teaching degree. Eventually, the Brockport Normal School would become SUNY Brockport.


She fondly described her upbringing in Upstate New York.
Despite being one of the only Black families, Williams said that “there could not have been a relationship more cordial, respectful and intimate than that of our family and the white people of this community [Brockport]”. 


She began her teaching career at a school for blacks in the South.
It was here, in Hannibal, Missouri, that she experienced segregation, discrimination, and physical assault for the first time. 


The discrimination Williams experienced in the South inspired her to become an activist.
“Everything I learned and experienced in my innocent social relationships in New York had to be unlearned.”


Williams become one of the founders of the NAACP.
She also helped found the National League of Colored Women in 1887, and became the Vice President of the Illinois Woman’s Alliance in 1889 — a predominantly white organization at the time. 


Williams was the only Black American to eulogize Susan B. Anthony.
In 1907, Williams was selected as the only Black American to honor the renowned women’s rights activist at the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention. 


Fannie Barrier Williams returned to Brockport in 1926, where she later died in 1944. 
She is buried in the Brockport Cemetery, which can be found on High Street.


Fannie Barrier Williams’ legacy lives on at her alma-mater.
2002: Brockport Alumni Association inducts Fannie Barrier Williams into the Hall of Heritage, the highest honor bestowed on an alumna. 

: SUNY Brockport created the Fannie Barrier Williams Women of Courage Scholarship, for students who show commitment to social justice, especially on behalf of underrepresented groups.

2021: SUNY Brockport created the Fannie Barrier Williams Scholars Program, which provides four-year scholarships to approximately 30 low-income students per year. True to her legacy, priority is given to students of color.

Fall 2022: The Liberal Arts Building is renamed the Fannie Barrier Williams Building. A permanent and significant tribute to her incredible advocacy.

Ongoing: Faculty members at Brockport continue to tell Williams’ story far and wide. Dr. Barb LeSavoy was invited to lecture on Fannie Barrier Williams for the Women’s Rights National Park, the Rochester Public Library, and the Rochester chapter of the American Association of University Women. Dr. LeSavoy’s most recent scholarship, titled Fannie Barrier Williams (1855-1944): 100 Years After Suffrage and the Legacies of Race, Gender, and Civic Voice, a publication that urges the strategic retelling of suffrage histories without erasing Fannie Barrier Williams, will go out for peer review at the end of the fall semester.