Pleasant, Emma Rose(born: January 24, 1909, - died: October 15, 1984)
This entry was written by Dr. Alicia Howard.
During the period of slavery in the US, laws were created to prohibit enslaved African Americans from educating themselves and others. Following the end of slavery, educational institutions were established by educated African Americans who made it their mission to ensure that their community would learn to read and write.
Emma Rose Pleasant was one of those missionaries of education. She was born on January 24, 1909, into a large prominent family in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. She has been described as courageous, independent, intelligent, and a well-mannered role model who held-fast to her family’s value of education. Her early elementary education, until grade 8, was received in the segregated school system of Lawrenceburg.
Prior to Emma Rose’s birth, Kentucky had passed a segregation law in 1904, the Day Law, named after Breathitt County Representative Carl Day. The law prohibited African American students from attending the same school with their White peers. Kentucky was the last state in the geographical South to introduce racially segregated schools. However, African American parents who desired for their children to continue their studies, would enroll the children in high schools in larger towns.
When Emma Rose’s parents, Ed and Genevia Pleasant, were presented with an educational opportunity in the 1920s, they did not hesitate to send Emma Rose and her 3 siblings to live with their grandmother, Rosa Belle Hayden Medley (1862-1940), who had recently migrated to Buffalo, NY. Their grandmother’s home provided a stable base for the siblings to obtain new life experiences in a high school with a diverse population.
Emma Rose would return to Kentucky. When most Black women during the 1930s had not completed a high school or a university degree, Emma Rose Pleasant was part of the 2% exception, graduating from Kentucky State Industrial College (KSIC) [now Kentucky State University]. She completed two degrees: the first degree obtained on June 1, 1931, at KSIC’s Junior College, and the second degree obtained on August 15, 1935, when she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English.
As a student at KSIC, Emma Rose was popular and known as the ‘flirting kind’ on campus. She participated in various collegiate activities. Emma Rose was the 1933/34 vice-president of the Delphic Club, a club that was organized in 1926 with the aim to promote the development of young women with the motto of “gentle manner and resolute in deed.” She was also a member of the Kentucky State Girls Basketball Team. During the week of April 22-26, 1935, she attended the “Vocational Guidance Week” presented by the BZ Chapter of AKA on campus.
Upon graduating from Kentucky State Industrial College, Emma Rose accepted her first teaching position at the Tuscaloosa County Training School with the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education in Alabama. The Training schools were a system of schools established for African American students in 1915 as a direct result of the Alabama constitution that legally adopted segregation in 1901. The institution of segregation was designed to disenfranchise African Americans and maintain the Jim Crow system of the South. Hence, county training schools were significant in the secondary education of African American students in southern states, especially in rural areas.
Following the completion of her teaching position in Tuscaloosa, Emma Rose would return to Kentucky in 1948 to join the faculty of the Rosenwald School in Harlan, KY. It was the only school for African American students in Harlan, Kentucky (Appalachia). Members of the African American community of Harlan, including prominent African American Henry Creech, had raised $500 for the construction of a school building in 1918. Harlan City Schools also donated $1,000 toward the Rosenwald School construction and land purchase. The Julius Rosenwald Fund covered the remaining cost. A new two-room school building opened in 1920. The construction of the school resulted from the majority White city board members, who in 1893 declined to financially support the construction of a school for African American students in Harlan.
Emma Rose was a strong advocate of giving back through education, and it is evidenced by her track record. While at Rosenwald, she made lasting impressions on her former students and family members.
A. Maxine Loretta Gregory Brown (wife of Jerry Brown)
Rosenwald 1953, KSU 1957, and Beta Zeta Chapter President.
B. Jerry Brown
Rosenwald Class of 1954, Kentucky State University Class of 1958, and a member of the Psi Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi.
Jerry Brown said that he felt well prepared for KSU because he had “teachers at Rosenwald who cared about Black students, and they were brilliant in their field.” In 1960, Jerry enlisted to the United States Air Force. While at the enlistment office, a white recruitment officer expressed to him that his credentials as a graduate of KSU would make him an excellent candidate for an officer. When Jerry arrived to take the exam, he passed with the highest overall mark, with only 8 out of the 28 men passing the exam. He was congratulated by the examiners. However, the older white sergeants had the final say. Based on Jerry’s physical exam, the sergeant stated that Jerry required dental work, a tooth filling, and could not, unfortunately, recommend him for the officer position. Fortunately, Jerry was not disheartened, as he was well prepared for the hard ‘no.’ Jerry’s experience at KSU and Rosenwald prepared him to achieve. He would go on to have a successful career with NASA HQs. And in 1990, he was nominated by NASA and awarded the prestigious Points of Light Award. The award was personally presented to him by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush, the couple were honoring individuals who demonstrated the transformative power of service. Jerry credits Emma Rose for not only being an excellent teacher, but also preparing him for life.
C. Danna Wood Webb
Danna W. Webb was the daughter of former Rosenwald principal, W.M. Wood. She too has fond memories of Emma Rose. She recalls her talent as a piano teacher and a choir director, but most importantly, Emma Rose was a mentor. At the age of thirteen, Danna was offered the opportunity to attend high school in Minnesota, where her aunt was residing. She recalls feeling conflicted about her decision. Following a heart-to-heart talk with Emma Rose, she realized it would be in her overall best interest to leave Appalachia and expand her world in traveling a similar path that Emma Rose had traveled. In Minnesota, Danna found herself one of a handful of African American students in her classes. It was initially a tough adjustment for Dana, having come from schools that had only African American teachers to having only white teachers during her four years of school in Minnesota. Throughout these life changes, Danna was able to demonstrate her confidence and her ability to excel in academics. She says that then and now, our adaptive behavior as African Americans is an historical fact of our survival. Following high school, she obtained a bachelor’s degree from Knoxville College (HBCU) where she was a member of the Gamma Eta chapter of AKA, and later obtained postgraduate degrees from Columbia University. Danna went on to have a career in academia and a successful law practice.
D. Naomi Pleasant Barkley (1931-2022), also a native of Lawrenceburg and a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, IN, said the following about her decision to attend college, “Cousin Emma Rose was very proper and I wanted to be like her and attend Kentucky State [sic]” [source: Facebook interview: March 8, 2019]. At Kentucky State College (KSC) [now Kentucky State University] Naomi would join the Beta Zeta (BZ) Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), and graduate with honors from KSC in 1951.
Emma Rose Pleasant valued education and learning. In the early 1950s, she enrolled in classes at the recently desegregated University of Kentucky, in Lexington, but withdrew due to the hostilities of White students toward African American students on campus. Being a determined and strong-willed woman, Emma Rose resumed her matriculation at Indiana University-Bloomington in 1952, and successfully completed her master’s degree, making her the first person in her family to obtain a post graduate degree. Transcripts also indicated that she continued her post-graduate education at Michigan State University, while employed as a teacher in the Lansing School District.
Forward-thinking in the way she lived her life, Emma Rose's creed for living, according to her personal quote from the monthly student publication at KSIC, The Kentucky Thorobred (1931), was “let no one man worry your mind.” Instead of being consumed by the norms and expectations for women of her time, Emma Rose enjoyed life to the fullest by learning, establishing a successful career in education, and being an active member in her church and sorority. On April 1, 1965, Emma Rose was initiated into the Delta Tau Omega Chapter of AKA in Lansing, Michigan.
At the age of 60, in 1969, Emma Rose decided to marry. In a quaint ceremony at the Friendship Baptist Church in Lansing, she wed the love of her life, Loubert Booker. They would share a full life together, until her passing on October 15, 1984. Emma Rose Pleasant (Booker) is the epitome of a phenomenal woman with courage and purpose. During her lifetime, she embodied the essence of an Alpha Kappa Alpha Woman: high scholastic and ethical standards, community service through education in underserved communities in the ‘Jim Crow’ South and Kentucky Appalachia, and as a role model for the young women of her time. Her legacy will be that of her gift to encourage and inspire her students to look beyond their circumstances, and to become the authors of their own narratives.
About the author: Dr. Alicia Howard is a graduate of Kentucky State University and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alicia is the great niece of Emma Rose Pleasant Booker.
Special Thanks to Mr. Jerry Brown, Soror Danna Wood Webb, Ms. Sharon McGee of Kentucky State University Archives, and the ladies of Delta Tau Omega: Sorors Nettavia Curry (Chapter President), Mary Jane McGuire (Past Chapter President 1974-75), Jeanette Peterson, and Gloria Bond. [Interviews and Correspondence]
- Emma Rose Pleasant, 1966 Transcript from Michigan State University.
- Specific about Rosenwald: Oral account from Jerry Brown (interview). See also History of Harlan County Rosenwald School.
- The KY Thorobred 1931, Delphic Club, p.4. (Emma Rose Quote). Kentucky State University Library.
- KSIC 1931 Graduation. Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Kentucky) · 23 May 1931.
- The KY Thorobred 1935, Graduating Class. Kentucky State University Library. (attached to this entry)
- Title: County Training Schools in Alabama - Author: Reid E. Jackson - Source: The School Review , Nov., 1939, Vol. 47, No. 9 (Nov., 1939), pp. 683-694 - Published by: The University of Chicago Press - Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1082040.
- "Vocational Guidance Week" of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Presented by Beta Zeta Chapter, April 22-26, 1935. (image of front cover attached to this entry)
- Photo image of Emma Rose Pleasant. Used with permission from Dr. Alicia Howard. (attached to this entry)
- "Summer Convocation," Kentucky State Industrial College, August 15, 1935. (image of front cover attached to this entry)
- Copy of Emma Rose Pleasant's bank pay request of $25.00 for her employment at the Tuscaloosa County Training School. First National Bank. December 21, 1935. Image used with permission from Dr. Alicia Howard.