We named Lyons Community School after Maritcha Lyons because she embodies the kind of full, well-rounded life we want for all our students. Born in New York City in 1848 to free African American parents, Maritcha had a remarkable life. As she wrote in her memoir, her parents instilled in her the drive to make the best of herself, but they also modeled the importance of helping others. Her parents were active in various aid organizations, and their boardinghouse was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Maritcha and her family truly valued her education. As a young girl, Maritcha missed a lot of school due to a serious illness. But as soon as she was healthy, she eagerly returned to school. Although she often had to walk nearly three miles to school, she was not deterred, anxious to catch up on all that she had missed. In her memoir, Lyons wrote that it was at this time that she developed a “love of study for study’s sake.”
In 1863, the Lyons family was forced to flee NYC during Civil War draft riots. The family moved to Providence, Rhode Island where Marticha and her siblings were at first denied entry to the Providence schools. The 16-year-old Maritcha spoke before the Rhode Island legislature, pleading “for the opening of the door of opportunity.” And the family won the right for African Americans to attend the public schools. Marticha Lyons became the first African American to graduate from Providence High School.
Upon her return to NYC, Maritcha sought to share her love of learning with others. She moved to Weeksville, a thriving independent African American community in Brooklyn, and became a teacher and eventually an assistant principal. Like her parents before her, she was a social activist – she was a part of many aid societies in Weeksville. As an assistant principal, Maritcha helped to integrate PS 83 in Weeksville. She was also an accomplished musician and avid writer. Her unpublished memoir, Memories of Yesterdays, and a children’s book, Maritcha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl allow present day audiences to learn all about this remarkable woman. We couldn’t be prouder to have our school named after her.
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