Bessie Reese Crenshaw

August 2022

Bessie Reese Crenshaw, left, receives president's medal from President Hawkinson, right.

President Hawkinson presents the President's Medal to Bessie Reese Crenshaw '50

Awarded August 25, 2022

Bessie Reese Crenshaw graduated from Reading High School in 1946 and enrolled in Kutztown State Teachers’ College that fall; she was the only Black student enrolled at the time. In 1950, she became the first African American to graduate from the institution, earning a B.S. in education.

From the time she was a young child, Crenshaw knew she wanted to be a teacher. To help fund her studies at Kutztown, she was a proud recipient of the J.F. Goodwin Scholarship, founded in 1936 by a young Black physician who wanted to help African American students realize their potential.

Upon graduation, Crenshaw found that Reading and Berks County were not ready to hire an African American teacher, so she began her career at the Berry O’Kelly School in Method, N.C., three miles from Raleigh. She taught a combined third and fourth grades class and later moved on to teach fifth grade. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina College at Durham and became a Sigma Gamma Rho sorority member.

Crenshaw returned to Reading in 1969, where she taught third grade for 20 years at 10th and Green Elementary School. After her retirement, she continued her commitment to education through her support of the “Help One Another” organization, which raises money to buy books for school children, and provides funds for college scholarships and textbooks through the “Youth of Yesterday” program. She also volunteered her time with the Literacy Council of Berks County, Campfire Girls and the Black Heritage Center.