Skip to main content Skip to main content
race today a century of noel speaker dr. philip hart

About Professor Rachel B. Noel


Rachel B. Noel

A champion of the civil rights movement in Denver and in Colorado: Rachel Noel was the first African American woman elected to public office in Colorado, the first African American elected to the Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) Board of Education, the first African American to be a member and chair of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, and the first African American woman elected statewide in Colorado.

On April 25, 1968, she presented the DPS board with the Noel Resolution, recognizing that the “establishment of an integrated school population is desirable to achieve equality of educational opportunity.”  It directed the superintendent to develop “a comprehensive plan for the integration of the Denver Public Schools.”  Under a cloud of threats to Noel and her family, the resolution passed in 1970. The U.S. Supreme Court would eventually affirm Noel’s position in its landmark decision of 1973, Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1, making Denver the first city outside the American South to be instructed by the country’s highest court to address de facto segregation with school busing.

Noel also played a critical role in MSU Denver’s history. She came to MSU Denver as a teacher of sociology and African American Studies in 1969 and served as chair of the African American Studies Department from 1971 to 1980. 

Rachel Noel leaning in at a meeting

Noel died at the age of 90 in 2008. During her lifetime and after, Noel’s legacy has inspired the MSU Denver community and beyond. In 1981, the University created The Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship to honor Noel.  A recipient of many awards and distinctions, Noel also lived to see a Denver Public Schools middle school named in her honor.  Although that middle school was closed, the building and campus that house charter programs are still called the Rachel B. Noel Campus. The Noel Community Arts School, housed in the former Montbello High School building, consists of both a high school and a middle school.

Noel was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Denver in 1993 and the University of Colorado in 2004 and an honorary degree from MSU Denver in 1981.  (She held a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and a master’s degree from Fisk University.) Noel’s other commendations and accomplishments were many, including:

  • Rocky Mountain News Top 100 Citizens of the Century, 2000 
  • Denver Mayor’s Millennium Award, 2001
  • Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, 1996
  • Civil Rights Award, Anti-Defamation League, Mountain States Region, 2004
  • Pillars of Leadership Award, National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, 2002
  • Metropolitan State College’s Plain and Fancy Award, 1990, and Outstanding Female Faculty Member 1974-75
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, 1990
  • S. Civil Rights Commission, Colorado Advisory Committee; Mayor Wellington Webb’s Black Advisory Committee; Mayor Federico Peña’s Black Advisory Committee (chair)
  • Commissioner, Denver Housing Authority
  • Council Trenholm Memorial Award, National Education Association, 1978
  • Eddy Award, Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, 1963

Edit this page

Help continue the legacy of Rachel B. Noel by making a gift to the Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship.


Give Now

We are looking for nominations for the Hope for the Future Award. We are also accepting application for the Rachel B. Noel Scholarship.


Award Nominations Scholarship Application

More Event Information

For more information about the Noel community event and other events, click here.