Remembering the First African-American Teacher in San Bernardino County: Dorothy Ella Inghram, SBVC Class of ‘32

Remembering the First African-American Teacher in San Bernardino County: Dorothy Ella Inghram, SBVC Class of ‘32

In celebration of Black History Month, San Bernardino Valley College remembers Hall of Fame alumna Dorothy Ella Inghram, class of 1932: the first African-American teacher in San Bernardino County, composer of SBVC’s Alma Mater, and one of Southern California’s most iconic educators.

Dorothy was born in 1905 on 6th Street in San Bernardino. Dorothy’s father, Henry, worked as a custodian in the Opera House on Court Street — one of the many places African Americans weren’t allowed to attend.

Dorothy began school at Mt. Vernon Elementary in 1911. She later attended Sturges Junior High School and San Bernardino High School, becoming one of 123 students to graduate in 1923.

Music played an important role in Dorothy’s life. While attending San Bernardino Valley College from 1928 through 1933, Dorothy wrote the music for the hymn that was selected as the college’s Alma Mater.

Dorothy earned an elementary teaching credential in 1939 after student teaching at an East Highlands school, and in 1942, Dorothy was hired to teach second grade at Mill School — the first African-American teacher in San Bernardino County.

Three years later, she became a teaching principal — splitting her duties between the classroom and administration — and became a full-time principal in 1951, a job she thoroughly enjoyed.

Dorothy Inghram (seated on the right) when she was principal of Mill School.

Dorothy was promoted to District Superintendent of Mill School District in 1953 — the first African-American in the state of California to hold that position, and somehow also found time to earn a masters degree in education from the University of Redlands in 1958.

In 1977, one of San Bernardino’s library branches (on the corner of Highland and Western Ave.) was named for her.

At the age of 97, Dorothy received an honorary doctorate degree from Cal State San Bernardino. She authored five books over the course of her lifetime: Dear Meg, Improving the Services of Substitute Teachers, Beyond All This, Incredible You and What’s on Your Mind?

In Beyond All This, Dorothy documents her family’s drive and determination to succeed during a time when blacks were not considered an integral part of the community. She recalls how her parents stressed that their children not carry any bitterness because of the racial tension around them, emphasizing the importance of education and following their own ambitions in order to become successful.

In 1989, Dorothy was inducted into San Bernardino Valley College’s Alumni Hall of Fame.

 Dorothy at her San Bernardino home in 2000, at the age of 95.

“San Bernardino Valley College provided the opportunity for me to pursue the professional career which I thoroughly enjoyed for 30 years,” Dorothy said. “For this, I shall always be grateful.”

Dorothy passed away in 2012 at the age of 106.