Zeline Richard, trailblazing educator, dies at 90

Like tens of thousands of others, Zeline Richard’s parents migrated to Detroit from rural Georgia. The Detroit Urban League estimated that during the 1920s about 1,000 blacks were moving to Detroit each month.
Zeline McCullough was born in 1927 in the Motor City. At that time, her family resided at 2948 Clinton Street near McDougall Street.  She died on September 30 at age 90.
Because of a scare job market, her family returned to Georgia for few years living briefly in Thomasville. After returning to Detroit, Richard was reared in the Black Bottom community. One of five children, Richard attended Duffield Elementary and the historic Miller High School. The daughter of a Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant welder, who also had a coal and ice business on the side, and a school teacher, Richard was an exceptional reader. She loved sports and was double promoted from first to third grade, and again from third grade to fifth grade. Richard entered eighth grade at age 11, according to the oral history interview she gave to the University of Michigan’s Chene Street Project in 2004.
“My (father) taught me that I could not just be as a good as the white girls,” Richard said. “I had to be better just to be considered equal.”
Richard was a Wayne State University student in 1943, the year of the infamous Detroit race riot. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1947 and master’s degree in 1953. Richard worked briefly as a soda jerk at Cunningham’s Drug Store. At age 19, she became a teacher in 1947 at Smith School, located at 2727 Ellery Street, in the Detroit Public Schools system. Richard later taught at Lincoln and Pattengill schools. She joined the Detroit Federation of Teachers and rose to a vice president position with the union. She later served as executive director of personnel during Dr. Arthur Jefferson’s tenure as general superintendent at DPS—the same school system that would not hire her mother several decades before. An influential educator, Richard ran for president of the American Federation of Teachers in 1968. She earned the second highest number of votes.
Active in community affairs, Richard served as director of education at New Detroit, Inc., beginning in 1970. She also served as an active member of the Michigan Democratic Party state central committee; a leading official in the 15th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization; a member of the Board of Police Commissioners for the City of Detroit; was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
“It has been my firm belief,” she told interviewers in 2004. “You cannot give me my dignity. You can never take away or destroy my dignity…I’m the only one who can destroy that.”
She summed up her life this way:
“I did my best all along the way,” Richard declared. “To make sure that anytime I had to be involved in anything it was always that pressure that you had to do the best that you could do, be the best that you could be, because if you didn’t, you were closing the door on the people who look like you who might follow after you.”
Arrangements for Zeline Richard are as follows:
Visitation: Friday, October 20, 2017
5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
5:30 p.m. Omega Service
Swanson Funeral Home
14751 West Nichols
Detroit, Michigan 48235
Home going Services: Saturday, October 21, 2017
10:00 a.m. Family Hour
11:00 a.m. Funeral Services
Good Shephard Lutheran Church
16100 Lawton Street at Puritan
Detroit, Michigan 48221


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