About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy
GOOD is part of GOOD Worldwide Inc.
publishing family.
© GOOD Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Teacher kept 'empty chair' in his classroom for over 50 years for heartbreaking reason

The empty chair carried strong emotions behind it and a painful tale from the past.

Teacher kept 'empty chair' in his classroom for over 50 years for heartbreaking reason
Cover Image Source: Montclair Public Schools

Childhood memories often leave lasting impressions on a person's mind, shaping their self-identity and purpose in life. Daniel Gill, a former Social Studies teacher, experienced a harsh lesson on racism during his childhood. This episode left a deep impact on him, sparking a fire that still burns bright. Throughout his five-decade teaching career, he lived this memory every day, with "an empty chair in his classroom." This chair symbolized strong emotions and a painful tale from the past, reports CBS News.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | K Senia Chernaya
Representative Image Source: Pexels | K Senia Chernaya

In his classroom at Glenfield Middle School, Montclair, New Jersey, the empty chair was not for punishment or as a spare. It was a reminder of empathy, a symbol of inclusiveness, and a life lesson he never forgot. This unique detail made him famous and beloved on the internet.


In 1980, while addressing his students on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Gill shared a story about his childhood. In the 1950s, a 9-year-old Gill went to a birthday party with his friend Archie, who was Black. It didn’t matter to them until the birthday boy’s mom denied them entry into her house. "The woman who is the mother opened the door and said that I could go in but that Archie couldn't because there were no more chairs," Gill said.

Representative Image Source: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
Representative Image Source: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

"I said, no problem, I'll sit on the floor. And she said to me, no, I didn't understand. There are no more chairs," Gill said. At first, they didn’t understand, but soon enough they realized what was causing the mother to act this way. Shocked, the two boys left the party, their eyes welling with tears. The memory haunted Gill for years. So when he became a teacher, he used that memory for good. "I put a chair in my classroom so that anybody who comes to my classroom filled with anticipation, like a party, would feel welcome," he said.

He even started a tradition of telling this story to his students annually on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, “as a way to punctuate what the day means in the lives of ordinary people, and how they should act when confronted with racism,” Gill told The Washington Post. He added that “kids learn really well through metaphors.”


Gill believes that throughout this journey, Archie remained his greatest inspiration. “Archie was denied the opportunity to go to the birthday party because of a bias the woman had,” Gill told TODAY, adding that, he didn’t know it at the time, but the experience of Archie and the birthday party drove him to where he is today.


During the span of his teaching career, Gill’s contribution has been monumental in terms of integrating Montclair public schools. Over the years, the school became a model for other schools’ desegregation. His school’s staff considered him as the "anchor." "It keeps us anchored, and so sometimes, when we get distracted and politics get in the way or you hyper-focus on something that's not as important, Mr. Gill can always bring us back," Principal Erika Pierce told CBS News.

“But there’s always more work to be done,” he said. By using the metaphor of an “empty chair,” he tried to teach kids the importance of inclusion, empathy, and love. “Kids work well with symbols,” Gill said. “It’s a reminder that they can do better, better academically, socially, and emotionally, but also to make people feel welcome and make this a better place to live.”

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Artstel
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Artstel

In May 2022, when he was planning to retire from teaching, Gill participated at the Montclair Public Library in a book-pitch competition called "Pitch-a-palooza," an event organized by husband and wife duo David Sterry and Arielle Eckstut. He pitched a book titled “No More Chairs,” saying that the book will be dedicated to Archie. Since he pitched his story in May, he was offered a publishing contract for his book from the Hachette Book Group and now has a book agent, per Montclair Local News. This book is set to roll out in the year 2025, according to Google Books. Gill also shared his story on The Kelly Clarkson’s Show a year ago.


“The empty chair shows his students that his classroom is always an accepting place,” wrote the Glenfield Public School's staff on their website.


More Stories on Good