Photo of Alma Powell
Alma Powell

ALMA POWELL

“Don’t force it.”

            Though born in Memphis, Tennessee, Alma Powell is truly a “South Bend girl,” having lived here since the age of two. A graduate of Harrison and Washington schools, it seems like destiny that she would become the guiding force in desegregating the South Bend schools and in re-segregating individual classrooms. While in her first job, teaching fourth grade at Pierre Navarre, she chaired the fourth grade reading initiative which gave her the “touch for administration.”

During her time in the South Bend schools she steadily rose through the ranks, eventually becoming principal of Studebaker and the first African American woman principal in South Bend schools. While Alma’s contributions to South Bend schools are myriad, perhaps she is best known for her work in desegregation. She describes her role as “talking to people and understanding what their concerns were about” and “helping them overcome their fear of the unknown.” Her plan was for “peaceful desegregation” and included such innovative initiatives as having teachers visit students who would be transferred into their school over the summer so the students had a friendly face upon entering.

Alma continued her innovative approaches in helping to convince the community of the need to turn the former Natatorium into the Civil Rights Heritage Center in memoriam of this period in South Bend history, once again demonstrating that the best way to find success is by not forcing it but by opening up dialogue.

  • First African American Woman School Principal in South Bend
  • South Bend Hall of Fame
  • Member IUSB Advisory Board
  • Member IUSB Alumni Board
  • First African American woman to Chair IU Alumni Association
  • Instrumental in creation of the Civil Rights Heritage Center
  • Chair, Board of Managers of the International IU Alumni Association
  • Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree awarded by IUSB
  • Board Member, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project.