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African Americans Working For Change


Emancipation brought change for African Americans. With change, came responsibilities, challenges, and achievements.

Mary Eliza Church Terrell (1863- 1954) was born to enslaved parents in Memphis, Tennessee. She received a BA and Master’s Degree from Oberlin College. In 1887, she moved to Washington, DC where she taught at the M Street Colored School in the Latin department. Throughout her life, civil rights and women’s suffrage were very important to her. She helped found the National Council of Colored Women and was a founder and charter member of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People. Source: Debra Michals Ph.D www.womenshistory.org

Mary Eliza Church Terrell described her feelings when she addressed the National American Women’s Suffrage Association on February 18, 1898

With courage, born of success achieved in the past, with a keen sense of responsibility which we shall continue to assume, we look forward to a future large with promise and hope. Seeking no favors because of our color, nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice, asking an equal chance.

Mary Church Terrell worked for change for African Americans. Terrell campaigned with Ida B. Wells to encourage legislators to pass anti-lynching laws. She encouraged all African Americans to get training and/or education. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Terrell joined other women picketing in front of the White House, demanding women’s suffrage. At the age of 86, she continued to work for civil rights when she protested segregation at a public restaurant in DC. After filing a lawsuit against the restaurant’s policy, she boycotted and picketed additional restaurants in DC. In June 1953, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregated eating places in DC were unconstitutional.

Like Mary Terrell, African American residents of Fairfax County worked for change. Principal Louise Archer provided instruction in sewing, cooking, and industrial arts for the students at the Vienna Colored School. She initiated graduation ceremonies. Archer also established a 4- H club for the students. The Colored Citizens Association established voting clubs and advocated before the County School Board for improvements in schools and raises for teachers. Community leader William McKinley Carter was part of the campaign to integrate public libraries in Fairfax County. These are just a few examples of efforts toward change taken by the African American residents.

I. Fraternal Organizations in Virginia

II. Calling for Improvements in Schools

III. The Colored Citizens Association Booklet 1941

IV. The Colored Citizens Association in the News