Lena Mae Bransford was born in 1873 in Springfield, the daughter of former slaves. She grew up in a highly-segregated society where black and white citizens were separated in nearly every situation, from school to church to public swimming pools. Opportunities for black women were especially limited, and most people born into Lena’s situation would have simply accepted the hand they were dealt and make the best of the situation.
But not Lena. Not only did she graduate high school, Lena went on to attend and graduate from college, an almost unheard accomplishment for black women. She received her degree from The Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State Normal School (now Tennessee State University) in 1922, later in life. Her passion for education would mark her entire career and span six decades.
While she was still a teenager, Lena helped found the Bransford School, Springfield’s first school for black students. Located on Cheatham Street between 10th and 11th Avenue, the school began as a one-room schoolhouse with three teachers (including Lena). It taught students from 1st until 6th grade and would serve as one of the first schools to teach black students in the city.
‘Miss Lena’ was known by students as a kind and effective educator. Her passion to see black students in Springfield have access to the same educational opportunities as white students translated into the growth of the Bransford School, eventually expanding into both a high school and elementary school to serve children of all ages. Her influence can still be felt in the city as the Bransford School finds new life in the Bransford Community Center (an organization dedicated to serving and empowering local youth).
Nothing speaks more to a teacher’s reputation than the words of the students they impact. Students of Bransford High School chose to dedicate their 1933 yearbook to Lena, including the following inscription:
“As a symbol of our appreciation – to a kind and modest soul, an efficacious influence, beaming with the radiance of nobility and strength, Miss Lena M. Bransford, who for many years has been an inspiration and a guide to hundreds of youths whom Bransford has set forth, we, with the highest respect and most reverential affection, dedicate this our first attempted Year Book.”
Miss Lena died in 1958. Even in her old age, she still continued doing what she loved; she was teaching piano to young students the week before she passed.