Celebrating Black History Month: Betty & Jean Fairfax

Betty & Jean Fairfax

Teachers, philanthropists, & advocates for educational equity

During this Black History Month, Arizona List would like to commemorate and honor two important women who worked to improve the education system in Arizona and touched the hearts of many. Knowing the women who have changed the state gives us a better understanding of how much has been done to get us where we are today.

As teachers, philanthropists, & advocates for educational equity, Jean and Betty Fairfax were both civil rights activists. They both lived in Phoenix and focused their work on the public education system. To cement their legacy, the Fairfax sisters officially established the Betty H. & Jean E. Fairfax Fund for Educational Equity. Through various institutes and organizations such as the Arizona Community Foundation, the Arizona State University Foundation, and the Southern Education Foundation, the sisters provided support through educational and scholarship programs. Their mission has had a lasting impact in education across the Phoenix basin. 

As a teacher and mentor to her students, Betty Fairfax continued her life-long passion for promoting education to students of color in the public education system. She taught in a segregated school in the 1950s at Carver High School and subsequently became one of the first Black teachers to teach as desegregation was first ordered within the county. After working within Phoenix Union High School District for more than 50 years she passed away in 2010. Before passing, the Laveen School District honored Betty and all her advocacy work by naming a school after her. The Betty H. Fairfax School was established in 2007 in Laveen, Arizona.

Jean Fairfax earned her bachelors at the University of Michigan and her masters from Union Theological Seminary in New York. She began making an impact in education as the Dean of Women at Kentucky State College and later did the same at Tuskegee Institute. She had experience in working in humanitarian relief following WW2 in Austria and as an administrative figure of Civil Rights programs in the South. She worked to make free-and-reduced lunch programs more accessible in schools and was an avid voice in the desegregation of post-secondary education. After moving to Phoenix, Jean founded and served with her sister as trustees of the Black Legacy Endowed Funds

Thanks to their philanthropic pursuits and advocacy, their dedication was felt throughout the state and in many schools the Fairfax sisters touched. The legacy of the Fairfax sisters in the education system will positively affect students for years to come. 

By Vanessa Madrid-Resendiz, Arizona List Intern




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