Councilman Ken Jones kicks off our series -highlighting the struggles and successes of Greenburgh residents who were trailblazers in the Civil Rights struggles
Please share your stories!
Greenburgh Councilman Ken Jones kicks off our African American stories series of the struggles and successes of Greenburgh residents whose lives deserve to be remembered and celebrated. His aunt, Anna Bernard was the first African American to be admitted to the New York State Bar Association. She enrolled in law school at a time when African American students were not taken seriously or supported. She became the first African American to be appointed to the Westchester Community College Board of Trustees. During her tenure enrollment of minorities went from 2% to 14%! A resident of Parkway Gardens, Anna Bernard also co-founded the Greenburgh Housing Authority.
Please continue to share your stories. Thank you Councilman Jones for sharing the story of your amazing Aunt.
Anna Bernard April 21, 1897- September 14, 1983
IN 1923 ANNA BERNARD became the first African American to be admitted to the New York State Bar Association. She was truly a trailblazer.
At an early age Anna’s achievements set the stage for an exemplary life of accomplishments. She was born in New Jersey to humble but progressive parents who relocated to New Rochelle New York three years after her birth. Anna and a few other students of color integrated the local public schools where she was the first African American to graduate with a high school diploma in 1915.
Anna pursued her post high school education at the Hunter College in New York City where she earned a Bachelors’ Degree in Education and became a New York State Certified teacher in 1919. She devoted the next forty years to a career educating children in the New York City Schools. Most of those years were spent teaching English at the “ Frederick Douglass Junior High School “ in Harlem New York where she resided. Among her more notable students was the renowned literary scholar James Baldwin.
Despite a successful fulfilling career Anna longed to expand her knowledge and ability to help those in her community. To that end she resolved to study law at the New York University Law School. She juggled her teaching assignments so as to attend evening classes. Anna and one other African American were enrolled in law school where they were neither taken seriously nor supported. Undaunted, Anna persevered to graduate with a JD Degree in 1923 and to become the first African American woman admitted to the New York State Bar Association. In a field dominated by white men Anna found it impossible to find work as an attorney. However, this credential equipped her for her many future endeavors.
In 1960 Ms. Bernard retired from teaching at the age of 63. She was finally able to practice law. Affiliating with the Law Firm of Blazi and Zimmerman of White Plains, she established a private trusts & estates practice. Almost simultaneously, she expanded her efforts to improve opportunities for underprivileged youth. She became the first African American Trustee on the Board of Westchester Community College serving from 1969-1978.
During Ms. Bernard’s tenure as trustee she advocated for many changes among them an “Open Door” policy, the expansion of enriching extra curricula programs, need based financial aid, remedial math, English and writing classes to support the success of students with special needs. As a result of her advocacy, the minority student population increased from 2 percent to 14 percent. During her tenure the college added seven new campus buildings and significantly expanded its budget.
Ms. Bernard dedicated the last two decades of her life to public service working with many local and neighboring civic and not for profit programs. Among the positions of note were:
Co-Founder and Vice chairperson of the Greenburgh Housing Authority where she lobbied for the construction of attractive lower and moderate income dwellings;
Member of The Greenburgh Victory Gardens, the Carver Garden Club of White Plains and founding member of “The Parkway Gardens, Garden Club” of Greenburgh;
Director of American Lung Association of Hudson Valley.
Anna Bernard is best remembered by her surviving neighbors for commitment to preserving the beauty and integrity of Parkway Gardens. She made it her mission to ensure that lawns were manicured , trees and shrubs trimmed ,unsightly items removed from view and encouraged the planting of flower gardens to brighten the community. Indeed, her petite stature belied her giant spirit, devotion and legacy to the Town of Greenburgh, Westchester county and New York State.