Stateline Strong: Rockford's First African-American Teacher Leaves Lasting Legacy

Constance Rennick Lane paved the way for African-American Teachers in Rockford

ROCKFORD - Constance Rennick Lane was a woman of firsts, with a number of accomplishments in the Rockford area.

She became the first black teacher hired by the Rockford Public School District in 1954. Nine years later she was the District’s first black principal, and later the Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education. But, to really get to know her, you'd need to speak with her best friend, Estelle Black.

"We always called her Connie, and we were really like sisters,” says Black. “But anyone that came into her life, she just took you on like you were one of the family."

Black remembers Lane as a woman who never let anything stop her, even in the face of adversity. "I remember when she applied for the teaching position and didn’t get the position that she should have, she went on and worked at a shoe store downtown. "

After four years of trying, Lane finally got the job. Black describes Lane lane as a woman with a vision, not only for herself but for those around her.

"For whatever she wanted, she worked very hard for, and she planned. She taught all of her friends to plan. Connie always had a vision, not only for herself and her family but for her friends," Black says.

Lane's perseverance drove her to graduate high school at the age of 16, and she went on to get her Bachelors and Masters degrees before returning back to Rockford.

"She would do whatever necessary to reach her goal, and she taught. She lived by example. She was always an example of what the best could be, and she just kept pushing towards it," Black remembers.

Lane was on the board for several organizations in the Rockford community, from the Rockford Public Library to the YWCA. She also wrote a chapter in Winnebago county's 'We the People' in 1975.

Lane's memory lives on now, through the countless lives she touched and guided in the Rockford community. “If you talk to one of her teachers, many of them would tell you, 'I am where I am today because Connie pushed me.' You’ll find many of her colleagues are principals because she just gave them that little push… that little nudge…because she told them they could be anything they want to be," Black says.

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