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.

Baker was born in Norfolk, Virginia on December 13, 1903. Growing up, her grandmother, who was formerly enslaved, often talked to her about the cruelty of slavery, including a whipping she received for refusing to marry someone chosen for her by her enslaver. The things
her grandmother shared inspired Ella to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Involvement In Civil Rights Movement
Baker attended historically black Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated as class valedictorian in 1927. After graduating she moved to New York City and joined the Young Negroes Cooperative, a grassroots organization formed for the purpose of developing Black economic power through collective planning.

In 1940 she became involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving first as a Field Secretary and then as Director of Branches from 1943 – 1946.

Ella joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was serving as president. She ran SCLC’s Crusade for Citizenship, its voter registration campaign.

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 conference at Shaw University and invited student sit-in leaders to attend. That conference led to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

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