Public Schools

Matthew Prophet, first Black superintendent of Portland Public Schools, dies at 92

Written by Mamie M. Arndt


When Matthew Prophet’s adult little ones came to visit their father in Portland in the 1980′s, he would display off the city’s schools.

Prophet, superintendent of Portland General public Schools from 1982 to 1992, would invest a Saturday driving his young children to university structures throughout the sprawling district, regaling them with tales about the pupils and lecturers within.

“He was so very pleased,” his son, Tony Prophet remembers. “Even on a Saturday, he was pondering about all those little ones, these universities.”

Prophet, Portland’s initial Black superintendent, died in California on Sunday of pure will cause at age 92.

In his ten years at Portland Community Colleges, Prophet enhanced results for minority college students and stabilized the district’s finances, raised teacher pay, and cemented a legacy as a charismatic, hardworking leader.

“He is the most trustworthy human currently being I have ever labored all around,” then-faculty board member Forrest ‘Joe’ Rieke informed The Oregonian 1992. “He does not engage in games with the truth.”

Prophet’s very own training commenced on unequal footing.

Matthew Prophet Jr. was born in 1930 in segregated Okolona, Mississippi – a state that Prophet after described as staying in the “worst problem of apartheid” to at any time exist in the U.S. White public colleges went via substantial university, Prophet told The Oregonian in 1988, but absolutely free schooling for Black learners ended in the eighth quality. The faculty yr was only six months prolonged, so Black small children could function in the cotton fields, he reported.

Prophet attempted his hand in the fields, son Tony Prophet mentioned, and would pick 100 lbs of cotton to gain just about every dollar. His mother, a faculty songs teacher, place a quit to that:

“Junior, I really don’t at any time want to see you choosing cotton once again!” Elvira Prophet advised her son, by Tony’s account.

Elvira and Matthew Waller Prophet Sr. saved adequate to spend for Prophet’s $150-a-yr tuition at the private Okolona Industrial Faculty founded for Black pupils, according to the Oregonian archives, and established apart funds for him to start out university at Howard College in Washington, D.C.

Prophet approximately flunked out his 1st 12 months following he used much more time actively playing sports and jazz trombone than he did finding out, he advised the newspaper. In 1951, his senior 12 months, Prophet was drafted into the U.S. Military.

A young man in a vintage army uniform and cap stares into the distance in a black and white photo.

Matthew Prophet was drafted into the navy in the course of his senior 12 months at Howard University and spent two decades in the service. Image courtesy of the Prophet relatives.Courtesy of the Prophet relatives

President Harry Truman experienced requested the navy to desegregate in 1948, but Prophet encountered segregated barracks and was requested to serve in an all Black device, Tony Prophet stated. Prophet declined, elevating problems that the units had been not integrated, and quickly located himself deployed to the Korean War.

However, Prophet moved up the ranks in the pressure. Inside 9 months of enlisting, Prophet was promoted to sergeant. He retired in 1971 at the rank of lieutenant colonel with numerous honors, which includes a Legion of Advantage Medal and a Bronze Star.

“In the Military, there was however a large amount of bias, even all through our occupations,” claimed retired Military colonel Jimmie Jones, who afterwards befriended Prophet in Oregon. “He and I utilized to talk about that a lot. We talked about how challenging we experienced to function, which caused us to develop a get the job done ethic as a make any difference of survival.”

Just after leaving Howard devoid of a diploma, Prophet put himself via night college although serving in the military, Tony Prophet reported, retiring from the army with a Ph.D.

Prophet joined a countrywide application for educational leadership and by 1972 was in the higher ranks of the Lansing, Michigan faculty procedure, exactly where he helped integrate the school district and led a push to recruit Black teachers.

1982 Press Photo Matthew Prophet Jr. talks to students at Normandale School

Portland’s superintendent-designate Matthew W. Prophet Jr. visits a kindergarten course at Normandale University Monday, talking with pupil Xis Xiong. OregonianOregonian

Prophet was preferred to run Portland Community Schools 1982, on the heels of desegregation endeavours that led to the firing of his predecessor, Robert Blanchard. He quickly commenced advocating for a $151 million tax foundation – and succeeded. He upgraded university structures, saved 50 percent a billion dollars with repairs to the district’s retirement fund and amplified trainer pay just about 50% during his 10-12 months tenure, The Oregonian claimed when he retired.

Involved with minimal check scores among learners of color, Prophet directed dollars into remedial and enrichment packages – and started out to see final results: Minority student test scores improved 62% in math and 43% in looking through.

His tenure was not without the need of hurdles. In the early ‘90s, Prophet fought versus Measure 5, a property tax limitation that restricted the district’s tax foundation, and the district weathered boycotts arranged by the Black United Entrance, which was sad that Portland Community Faculties had not shut accomplishment gaps that left poor learners and students of colour powering.

Ron Herndon, then co-chairman of the Black United Entrance, told The Oregonian in 1991 that he acknowledged Prophet’s enhancements, but that Portland educational institutions have been nevertheless failing more than 4,000 Black learners who had been behind quality amount in looking through and math.

“There is no solace in this neighborhood with that form of general performance,” Herndon told the newspaper.

Prophet was a meticulous document-keeper and an ardent planner, who wasn’t keen on sitting down in his workplace all working day, said deputy superintendent Donald McElroy. Prophet would visit lecture rooms and fall in on faculty meetings when he had the possibility. He prided himself on visiting the district’s 112 educational institutions just about every 12 months, son Matthew Prophet III said.

Jones applied to watch Prophet at school board conferences and marvel that the superintendent could communicate with grassroots understanding about what was occurring on a classroom-degree. It influenced Jones to abide by in Prophet’s footsteps and become an educator himself right after leaving the Military.

“Matt Prophet set the stage by staying an lively superintendent who recognized what was taking place,” Jones reported. “I explained: ‘I want to be like that.’”

Prophet gained nationwide acclaim at the helm of Portland General public Colleges and was recruited to get the job done in Chicago and New York and at Harvard University. He turned them down, remaining in Portland even immediately after he retired in 1992.

Prophet experienced a concealed talent for singing, Tony Prophet mentioned, and cherished a game of pool. He played baseball as a younger person – even tried out unsuccessfully for the shortstop place for the Brooklyn Dodgers, The Oregonian documented – and was a longtime golfer at Portland’s Waverley Region Club.

“Matt was excellent at anything,” McElroy remembers. “He was just a superman.”

Freddye and Matt Prophet

Matt and Freddye Prophet ended up married for 63 decades and had 4 youngsters. Photo courtesy of the Prophet family

Prophet was devoted to his spouse, Freddye, a trainer who he satisfied at a barbecue joint in Hugo, Oklahoma, just after returning property from the Korean war. They danced that to start with evening away and were married for 63 years right before she died in 2017. He’s survived by a few sons, one particular daughter and a solid of grandchildren.

To the conclude, Prophet was in good spirits, cracking jokes with personnel at the California nursing household wherever administration experienced to question him to quit leaving $20 ideas for the staff, his sons said.

“That was just him, all of the time: accomplishing issues that had been useful and becoming quite generous,” Matthew Prophet III explained. “He would usually see the fantastic in persons.”

Matthew Prophet

Matt Prophet, remaining, with son Tony and grandsons Falco and Ashdon, pictured at a San Francisco Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration where Prophet reviewed his civil rights journey. Picture courtesy of the Prophet household

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Sami Edge addresses larger education for The Oregonian. Arrive at her at [email protected] or 503-260-3430.


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Mamie M. Arndt