When she won the first national spelling bee, Marie C. Bolden dealt a blow to racism

Marie C. Bolden, a Black girl, won the first national spelling bee in the U.S. 115 years ago, breaking racist stereotypes of the time.

Historical victory: At age 14 in 1908, Bolden won a gold medal by flawlessly spelling 500 words, leading her hometown team, Cleveland, Ohio, to victory in a national contest.
* Even Booker T. Washington mentioned her victory in his speeches.
* Her accomplishment was a dramatic and unprecedented feat, as Cleveland’s team had been trailing before Bolden helped secure the top prize.

Rediscovering her story: Bolden’s achievement was mostly unknown until after her death, when her grandson found a newspaper clipping recounting her triumph at the national spelling contest.
* Her victory is recognized by Guinness World Records as part of the first nationwide spelling bee.
* Her story resurfaced after Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2021.

Facing racism: Bolden encountered racism in the competition, with New Orleans officials expressing prejudice against her as the first Black speller in the contest.
* After her win, the New Orleans school board censured its superintendent, and a spelling bee in her honor was later canceled by the mayor.

Relocating to Canada: Due to the treatment of Black people in the U.S., Bolden and her family eventually moved to Canada, where her grandson and his grown daughters now reside and maintain a strong sense of pride in their great-grandmother’s accomplishment.

View original article on NPR

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