In Celebration of Black History Month

February 1, 2023

In Celebration of Black History Month

Dear CSSW Community,

One constant in U.S. history is its unwillingness to recognize and celebrate the many contributions of Black people to this country. Black women, in particular, are far too often erased from history books. In honor of Black History Month, we thought it fitting to begin the process of undoing this harm by lifting up a pioneer in social work, who is also the first Black woman to graduate from Columbia School of Social Work: Winona Cargile Alexander. 

As part of an advocacy course project, CSSW alumna Kamaria Excell discovered that Ms. Alexander graduated from the New York School of Philanthropy (now the Columbia School of Social Work) in 1915. For her undergraduate career she attended Howard University, and became one of the 22 founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, a national organization devoted to sisterhood, scholarship, and service—committed to addressing the social needs of the time. Not only was Ms. Alexander the first Black woman admitted to CSSW, she was the first Black woman to graduate from the program and become a licensed social worker within New York. Ms. Alexander later moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and was a social worker with the Duval County Welfare Board where she focused on providing resources to those experiencing poverty. She also worked at Brewster Hospital and was a Traveler’s Aid Administrator.  Her contributions to the social work field are lasting. Recognizing Black women, like Ms. Alexander, who have played pivotal roles in the social work field, is essential. Besides being the right thing to do, it is an affirmation to other Black women that they belong and they matter.

We want to thank Kamaria for highlighting the impact of this iconic figure on our CSSW community and the field of social work. We look forward to celebrating and honoring her legacy, which is why we renamed our HBCU Scholarship in her honor. Let us continue to lift up the stories of our unsung Black heroes. Not just in the month of February, but throughout the year.

In Community,

Melissa Begg
Dean & Professor

Karma Lowe
Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion & Community Engagement