Already one can feel the brisk air that is energizing. The fall is the time of year when students are back at school. A good teacher can change the life of a child and improve society. James Miller Baxter was an educator who moved mountains by ending segregation in the Newark Public Schools. As an instructor and principal of State Street School in Newark, he not only showed leadership inside the classroom but outside as well.
Baxter, who graduated from the Quaker operated Philadelphia Institute with high honors, began to teach at State Street School on October 26, 1864. Since he was such an exceptional teacher, he became the principal of the school two months later. He was just 19 years old when he became Newark’s first African American principal. Under his leadership, the pupils of State Street School really improved academically. His greatest accomplishment was desegregating Newark schools. Due to Baxter’s strong stand against segregation, Irene Pataguan became the first black student admitted to Newark High School in the 1870’s. In 1872 a law was passed that allowed black students to attend school in any sector of the city.
Not only was Baxter an outstanding educator, he was a good man. For over forty years, he was involved at St. Philips Church, an Episcopal Church. He was also engaged in politics. He was even considered for a prestigious position as the United States Minister to Haiti but declined the offer and decided to stay in Newark, the city that he loved so much.
Today State Street School, where James Miller Baxter worked for 45 years, the oldest school building in Newark, still stands. The school, which was built in 1845 and is a two-story brick building, was added to the natural register of historic places in 1990. The school was used for 144 years and closed in 1990. This institution was one of the oldest schools for African Americans in the United States.
The James M. Baxter Terrace, named in honor of Newark’s first black principal, built around 1940, was Newark’s first housing project.
Baxter will always be remembered in Newark, for he left a legacy of equality for all students in Newark schools and beyond the classroom walls.