Roderick Raynor Paige, the first African American and the first school superintendent to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Education, was born on June 17, 1933 in Monticello, Mississippi. The eldest of five children, Paige was born to his mother Sophie, a librarian, and father, Raynor C. Paige, a school principal and barber.
Roderick Paige attended segregated schools in Monticello where he saw the stark differences between the education and opportunities offered to white children and black children. In 1951, Paige graduated from high school and enrolled at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi. He was an honor student and football player there. In 1955, after he graduated with a B.A. in physical education, Paige began teaching at a high school in Clinton, Mississippi. However, not long after he started, he was drafted and joined the U.S. Navy. Before he left for Okinawa (Japan) to work as a medical corpsman, Paige married his college sweetheart, Gloria Crawford.
Upon his return, Paige served as football coach at Jackson State University. Realizing his true aspirations were in education though, he enrolled at Indiana University to attend graduate school. (No graduate schools in Mississippi accepted African Americans as students.) Overcoming the hardships caused by academic deficiencies in public schooling, Paige earned an M.A. in 1962, and then a doctorate in physical education in 1970.
In 1971, Paige applied for a job at Texas Southern University as head coach and athletic director. He stayed there for thirteen years in both posts. In 1984, after his marriage to Gloria Paige ended in divorce, he left his coaching job to become dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern. As dean he set up the Center for Excellence in Urban Education.
In 1989 Paige decided to run for the Houston Independent School District (HISD) School Board. Although he had never participated in politics, Paige’s academic credentials and ideas about educational reform helped him gain support from Houston Republicans and