Marceline Rollins Catlett hadn’t yet been born when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white students were “inherently unequal.” The next year, when the court required that schools desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” Catlett still wasn’t even a twinkle in her father’s eye.
But when the all-white Maury Elementary School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, started to admit African American students, the little girl was one of the first to walk in.
There, and through her activist parents, she saw that people are people regardless of skin tone. She also discovered her love of service and leadership, taking on student council presidencies throughout middle and high school.
Most of all, she learned that she loved people, children, and education. She headed to Virginia State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1981 — the same year she started teaching 6th grade at Walker-Grant Middle School, the school she had attended as a child.
In Dr. Catlett, the Fredericksburg City Public School community has an empathetic local, someone who knows them and their kids. She is the daughter, sister, wife, and mother who has lived Fredericksburg’s hard history since she herself was a first-grader, dressed in her Sunday best, walking nervously through the doors of a school that might not want her.