Family reflects on legacy of Emma Norman Todd, the first Black Central Michigan student


Courtesy Photo : Portrait of Emma Norman Todd

About 19 miles west of Mount Pleasant sits a small town of about 3,000 people called Remus. 

The town is a puzzle filled with pieces of history, one of them being Emma Norman Todd. 

Todd was many things: a farmer, a mother of six children and an active member of the Wheatland Church of Christ. She was also the first known African American student at the Central Michigan Normal School, the former name of Central Michigan University. 

Todd went to CMNS to become a teacher. The school was known to train teachers because of the numerous amounts of one-room schoolhouses in the area around the school.  

CMU Museum Director Jay Martin said  Todd became a teacher for Nostrant School, a one-room schoolhouse in Remus, after graduating from Normal School

Diana and Deonna Todd Green are granddaughters of Todd. The sisters said their grandmother taught her kids, nieces and nephews and even her husband William Todd, who was able to read and write because of her.  

Dorothy Allen, Todd’s great-niece, said her aunt would take a horse and buggy to school. Todd would carry hay and water, so the horse could reenergize before the ride back home. If it was too cold to take the horse and buggy, Todd would stay on the Chippewa Indian Reservation with the Thompson family, who lived close to the school.  

Allen said that it was not normal for an African American woman to go to school and graduate with a teaching degree.  

“It was over the top in 1907 for a little Black girl to go to school,” Allen said. 

Todd’s life was not easy, but she never used to talk about her obstacles as hardships, Allen said.

“I was lucky enough to be able to visit with Aunt Em on a regular basis, because I lived in the Nostrant School,” Allen said. “I thank Aunt Em for my introduction to our family history, her wonderful stories and taking time to talk and listen.” 

George Crawford, who was Todd’s great-nephew, said Todd knew what was appropriate and what was not. She always wanted to do the right thing.  

“She wanted all her students to succeed,” Crawford said. “These qualities were expressed at home.” 

Todd did not only help her family and students; she also helped her neighbors. Todd was known as one of the leaders of her community. As a teacher and a farmer, Todd made more money than most people did in Remus. Instead of spending all of her money on herself, she used it to help out her family and her community.  

When Todd was alive, the banks in Remus did not allow African Americans to take out loans. Because of this, Todd became the “bank” of Remus for these people. The Green sisters said she had a suitcase in her house full of money that she would loan to her neighbors when needed. Todd was always asking people how they were and offering to help. 

“People in Remus were known for stepping in and taking care of things,” Martin said. “Todd was one of those people.” 

Emma Norman Todd died at the age of 86 in 1973, but her legacy still lives on as her family remembers her - what she did, what she accomplished, what she taught and the lives she touched.