March 04, 2023
Famous African American Women in History/Black Women In History pt3
Mary Church Terrell can be called the face of civil rights in this country. She was one of the first black women in history in the struggle for civil equality for blacks as well as for women. She spent her life in the pursuit of equality whether it was as an educator or an organization. You may say her life’s purpose was to stand up for those who had no voice.
Mary Church was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 23rd in 1863. Her parents Robert Church and Louisa Ayers were both former slaves. Her father was the son of his white slave master, Charles Church. Marry was born the same year that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When Mary was three her father was shot during a race riot in Memphis, he was left to die. However he managed to live through. Her parents were able to provide a comfortable life for Mary and her brother.
Her mother worked in a hair salon as a hair dresser. Her father bought and sold real estate, eventually he became one of the wealthiest black man in the south. In 1869, her parents divorced. Her mother was awarded custody of Mary and her brother; they were split between thier parents. Although her mother moved them to New York, they spent there summers with thier father.
Mary was a very intelligent child; she was one of the first black women in history able to graduate from Oberlin College. Oberlin was one of the first colleges to integrate in the United States. Not only did she attend college but she took up gentlemen’s courses rather than the easier shorter courses for women.
After completing her degree she worked at a black secondary school in Washington and at Wilberforce College in Ohio. From 1888-1890 she traveled abroad with her father; studying in france, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and England. In 1904 she returned from Europe and started working in the Washington D.C. schools.
After returning to Washington she married her close friend and co-worker Robert H Terrell in October of 1891. He later on went to be a federal judge. In 1898 she gave birth to a daughter. In 1892 her friend, Tom Moss, a grocer in Memphis was lynched by a white mob. Ms. Church and Fredrick Douglass met with Benjamin Harrison concerning the case but the president at that time did not make a public statment concerning the lynching.
Mrs Terrell became very involved in social reform and volunteer work. Through her father she was able to meet Frederick Douglas and Booker T Washington. She later worked on several cilvil rights campaigns with Frederick Douglas.
She was very passionate about fighting to end both racial and gender discrimination. She was a member of the National American woman Suffrage Association, National Association of Colored Women and a chapter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP).
She continued her fight for equality and justice up to her death in 1954 just after the Supreme Court decision in the Brown vs. board of Education case.