A lion of the civil rights movement in Denver, in 1965 Rachel Noel became the first African American elected to the Denver Public School board and the first African American woman ever to serve elected office in Colorado. On April 25, 1968, she presented the DPS board with the Noel Resolution, which asked the superintendent to develop a plan to integrate Denver's public schools. Under a cloud of threats to Noel and her family, the resolution passed in 1970.
The U.S. Supreme Court would eventually echo 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 receive instructions by the country's highest court to address segregation with school busing.
A part of MSU Denver's diverse history, Noel 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.
As her legacy continues to be of such value to the MSU Denver community, the University created the distinguished professorship to honor Noel when she retired. A recipient of many distinctions, Noel, who was born in 1918, has lived to see a Denver middle school named in her honor as well as MSU Denver's Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship. She holds a bachelor's degree from Hampton University, a master's degree from Fisk University, an honorary doctorate from the University of Denver, an honorary degree in humane letters from the University of Colorado, and an honorary degree from MSU Denver. Her other accomplishments are many:
Received the Anti-Defamation League's Civil Rights Award in 2004
Served on Mayor Wellington Webb's Black Advisory Committee; chaired Mayor Federico Peña's Black Advisory Committee
Served on the Advisory Board of the United States Civil Rights Commission
Named among Top 100 Citizens of the Century in a list compiled by the Rocky Mountain News in 2000
Inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in 1996
Earned the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award in 1990
Served on the Chancellor's Advisory Committee for the Health Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Denver
Served as Denver Housing Authority commissioner
Was the first African American to serve on the University of Colorado Board of Regents (1976-1984); chaired the board for one year