Civil Rights

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell

Though less known than others, she was an important figure in the fight for equal rights and should be included in all lessons on civil rights and lessons on women’s rights.

Mary Church Terrell was born Mary Eliza Church on September 23, 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee to parents who were former slaves. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio where she received a master’s degree in education.

NOTE: Oberlin was the first college in the United States to admit women and one of the earliest to admit students of all races.

Mary moved to Washington, D.C. in 1887 and taught at a local high school for black students. In 1891 she married Robert Terrell, who became a lawyer and later the first black municipal judge in Washington. After marrying Robert, Mary became active in the suffrage movement and worked for civil and equal rights for women and African Americans.

In 1896 she helped found the National Association of Colored Women, an organization that supported women groups throughout the country. Mary served as the association’s president for the first two terms. She also worked with other civil rights groups and in 1909 was one of the signers of the charter that established the NAACP.

One of Mary’s goals was to end segregation in public establishments in Washington, D.C. In 1950, after being refused service in a whites-only restaurant, she brought a lawsuit against them. The case went on for three years. In 1953 the courts ruled that segregation in restaurants in Washington, D.C. was unconstitutional.

Terrell continued to work and fight for equal rights for women and African Americans until her death in 1954, just two months after the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v Board of Education.

Her former home in Washington, D.C. is now a National Historic Landmark.

Ella Baker

Ella Baker

Who Was Ella Baker?

Ella Baker, although less known than others, was an important civil rights leader during the 1950s and 60s.

Ella was born in Norfolk, Virginia on December 13, 1903. Her grandmother was once held in slavery. When Ella was growing up, her grandmother often talked to her about slavery and how cruel it was. She told Ella she was beaten because she refused to marry a man her enslaver had chosen for her. The things
her grandmother talked about inspired Ella to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Involvement In Civil Rights Movement
Ella attended Shaw University. Shaw is an historically Black college in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ella graduated from Shaw in 1927. She was class valedictorian. After graduating Ella moved to New York City. She joined an organization called the Young Negroes Cooperative. It was an organization formed to create power in the Black community by sharing ideas and planning strategy together.

In 1940 Ella joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She helped them grow their membership and open local offices in the south.

When Dr. King became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Ella joined them and helped Black Americans register to vote.

When students in Greensboro, North Carolina began sit-ins at lunch counters to protest segregation in eating establishments, Ella returned to North Carolina to assist in that movement. She organized a meeting at Shaw University and invited student sit-in leaders to attend. Students at the meeting worked well together. They shared ideas and strategies and formed a new civil rights organization called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was a youth organization and Ella helped them get started.

Ella was  active in civil rights her entire life. She quietly worked in the background for SNCC and other important organizations. She died in New York on her birthday on December 13, 1986.