A Story for Black History Month

Courtesy photo - Sarah Hackett as she appeared in a local newspaper in December 1900.

In recent weeks I helped host a citywide spelling bee in Alameda that was thought to be the first such event in recent memory. It has come to my attention that a district-wide spelling bee in 1900 holds an important place in Alameda history. 

According to her cousin, Toni Grandberry, whose family moved to Alameda in the 19th century, and newspaper reports in the San Francisco Call, among others, Sarah Hackett won that spelling bee held Dec. 15, 1900. Sarah was an African American. According to a news story at the time, “a bright colored girl is the prize speller of all the Alameda grammar schools, having won the honor over 80 school children selected as the best spellers in four schools.” Sarah attended Encinal School and beat the best spellers from Haight, Wilson and Longfellow schools. 

The 30-minute “crossfire of words” closed with a special contest for a prize among the 12 spellers who remained standing at the end of the bee. Sarah was the competitor who outspelled all the others.

Sarah was the daughter of James Hackett, described in the story as a gardener and janitor for the Methodist Church.