Mary Church Terrell humble but outspoken activist A founder of the civil rights movement.
born in 1863In the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, she lived a ramified life of opportunity and oppression. The biracial son of a white businessman and a formerly enslaved woman, her father made his fortune through real estate and pool halls, giving her family a privileged life. These economic advantages enabled Terrell to pursue an education. When she received her bachelor’s degree from her college in Oberlin in 1884, she became one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree.
Her exposure to wealth provided a mirage of possibilities. She was multilingual, well-read, and educated, but she was also African-American in the Jim Crow-ruled United States.
This dichotomy fueled her activism.
Lynching, Jim Crow Judgment Spur Action
When a family friend was lynched by a white mob in Tennessee and the Supreme Court declared segregation legal Pressy vs Ferguson 1896, Terrell refused to remain silent.
She became a social and civic activist, joining or leading many clubs and societies formed to fight for the black community, often focusing on women’s rights. of National Association of Women’s Clubs of ColorWith the motto “Lift while climbing,” the association’s goal was to fight racism and sexism together.
She was a founding member of the NAACP and one of the early leaders of Delta Sigma Theta, a prestigious sorority dedicated to public service founded in 1913. National Women’s Suffrage Associationwhich she joined after meeting Susan B. Anthony.
One of Terrell’s most significant achievements was his contribution to desegregation in Washington, DC, in his later years.
the country’s capital had Prohibited discrimination in public entertainment it was not well known Local Laws on Almost Forgotten Books.
Using that arcane law, Terrell Coordinating Committee for DC Anti-Discrimination Implementation Act of 1950 to sue. District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson & Co.. (Thompson was a restaurateur who refused to serve black people.)
As the case went to court, she staged silent protests across the city. Ultimately, her side won. Seventy years ago, on June 8, 1953, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to end racial segregation in Washington, D.C. restaurants. Terrell died a year later when she was 90.
Terrell is credited with laying the groundwork for sit-ins, civil disobedience, and peaceful protest against the civil rights movement. She is a role model for women such as Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer etc.
Her tenacity, intelligence, and strength have made her a powerful change agent worthy of recognition.
Robin Hamilton is the director of several documentaries, including This Little Light of Mine: The Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer and Dignity and Defiance: A Portrait of Mary Church Terrell. Her website isaroundrobin.com.