Shirley Graham Du Bois – Political Activist, Composer, Playwright, and Author

Shirley Graham, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

Shirley Graham, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

I wrote a short piece for the Facebook page last week on Shirley Graham Du Bois, but feel that this remarkable woman deserves more attention. Not only was she a well-established political activist before she married her famous husband, W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1951, she was also a composer , a published playwright, a lecturer and an author. Taught as a child to stand up to injustice, she wrote her first editorial when she was 13 and never looked back.

Born November 11, 1896, Shirley was the oldest of five children born to David A Graham, an African Methodist Episcopal minister and his wife Elizabeth Etta Bell Graham. The family moved frequently because of her father’s assignments. Living in both northern and southern states such as Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Colorado, they ended up in Spokane, Washington, where Shirley graduated from Lewis and Clark High School. Her father officiated at her first marriage to Shadrach McCants in 1918. The couple had two boys, Robert (1923) and David (1925), before obtaining a divorce in 1927.

After the divorce, Shirley left her two boys with her parents and traveled extensively, studying and teaching. She studied at Howard University School of Music, the Institute of Musical Arts in NYC, and at the Sorbonne before entering Oberlin College in 1931 where she received her undergraduate degree and a Masters in Music. She taught music and fine arts during this time to support herself. Later, she took classes toward a doctorate in English at Yale and New York University.

During her time at the Sorbonne, she met many people of African descent and developed a desire to express African and African-American themes through her music. In 1932, her opera, Tom Tom: An Epic of Music and the Negro, premiered in Cleveland, Ohio to great acclaim, making her the first African-American woman to write and produce an opera with an all-black cast. It told the story of Africans’ journey to North America as enslaved people, their struggles, and finally their freedom.  It took place in a stadium setting and attracted 25,000 people to the first two performances. She wrote other musicals, as well as comedic and tragic plays, including Deep Rivers (1939), It’s Morning (1940), Track Thirteen (1940), and Elijah’s Raven (1941).

After her time at Oberlin, Shirley served as a director of a unit of the Chicago Federal Theater, the YWCA-USO Director at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and founded the Graham Artists Bureau in Chicago with her brother Bill to secure bookings for African-American artists. Dismissed after defending men who were protesting the deaths of three black soldiers at Fort Huachuca, she was hired by the NAACP as a field secretary to organize new branches across the country.

Shirley was a prolific writer having written her first editorial at the age of 13, after being barred from a YWCA swimming pool. She wrote in several genres, but is particularly known for her biographies for both adults and children. Her first book, George Washington Carver, Scientist, was published in 1944, followed by Paul Robeson, Citizen of the World (1946), and Your Most Humble Servant: Benjamin Banneker (1949), among others. She focused not only on famous African-Americans, but also on international individuals such as Gamal Nassar and Julius Nyerere. She also wrote two novels, Zulu Heart (1974) and a historical novel about the life of Frederick Douglass, There Once Was a Slave (1947) which won the Messner Prize.

W.E.B. Du Bois c. 1946, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

W.E.B. Du Bois c. 1946, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

Politically active throughout her life she wrote and delivered many speeches and published articles on a variety of topics related to minorities, women, and peace. Her focus was not confined to issues in the United States, but was global. In 1961, she was one of the founders of Freedomways, a civil rights magazine, and became its first general editor. She was also one of the founders of the Progressive Party and in 1948 gave the keynote address at the convention in Philadelphia which nominated former Vice President Henry Wallace for President.

Shirley’s second marriage was to W.E.B. Du Bois on Feb 27, 1951, about six months after the death of his first wife. Thirty years his junior, she had known him since she was a child and as an adult had worked as a colleague on many common causes.

After their wedding, he was indicted for “un-American” activities, but there was insufficient evidence for a conviction. For the next 10 years, they fought legal battles with the government and continued to be harassed by US officials because of their left-leaning stances.  Finally, they decided to emigrate to Ghana in 1961. They became citizens and even after W.E.B.’s death in 1963, Shirley remained in Ghana until the coup d’etat in 1966.

A woman of many talents, after her husband’s death, Shirley worked with Ghana Television, developing studio space, training staff, and helping to develop the national infrastructure. In 1966, with the overthrow of the government led by Kwame Nkrumah, she moved to Cairo, Egypt to live with her son David who was working as a journalist.

In Cairo, Egypt, she traveled throughout the world speaking and promoting the cause of liberation for Africans, African-Americans, and women. In 1971, she also published her memoir of W.E.B., His Day Is Marching On. In 1977, Shirley traveled to Beijing, China, for cancer treatment, where she died on March 27th.

Shirley Graham Du Bois was a very talented and versatile woman who had a passion for justice that wouldn’t be denied.


Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

DuBois, Shirley Graham (1896-1944) at Black Past Remembered & Reclaimed

Shirley Graham Du Bois at Wikipedia

Elizabeth Piper Ensley – Organizing African-American Suffragists

Elizabeth Piper Ensley c. 1900, Denver Public Library (source)

Elizabeth Piper Ensley c. 1900, Denver Public Library (source)

Yesterday, I posted an article on Facebook by Lynn Yaeger at Vogue entitled The African-American Suffragists History Forgot. It was a good, short article which gave names of a number of African-American women involved in the suffrage movement, including a couple I have never heard of. One of these is Elizabeth Piper Ensley, a woman who had extensive contacts in the east where the suffrage movement was bigger news, but who did her work in the west.

Not much is known about Elizabeth’s childhood. She was born around 1848 in the Caribbean Islands and was well-educated, probably to the level of a college degree. One source says that she received part of her education in Germany and France. Whether abroad or at home, when she moved to Boston in the 1870s, she made good use of her education by teaching school and helping to establish a library. She also got involved in suffrage and social reform groups active in Boston at the time.

In 1882, Elizabeth married Howell N Ensley and they moved to Washington D.C where they were both associated with Howard University, possibly as teachers. Some time before 1888, they decided to travel west and settled in Denver, Colorado. It was a period of economic depression in the area with a lot of unemployed miners moving to Denver with their families. Elizabeth got involved in reform efforts using her contacts in Boston and Washington to assist in relief efforts for the poor.

Around the same time, the Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association was reorganized with a desire to put women’s suffrage on the November 1893 ballot. The Colorado State Constitution of 1876  gave women the right to vote, but only in local school elections. The Equal Suffrage Association was originally founded at that time to work toward suffrage in state-wide elections, but had ceased functioning.

The Association reorganized with meager resources, just $25 and Elizabeth became treasurer. She took on a leadership role in two areas, first in developing the financial backing needed for the campaign, but probably more important to her, she organized black women. Together, they influenced the all-male electorate to vote in favor of the amendment and women in Colorado won the right to vote on November 7, 1893.

To Elizabeth, having the right to vote wasn’t enough. She soon organized the Women’s League to educate black women on the issues, why, and how to vote. During the next year, women helped to vote into the legislature a black man, lawyer Joseph Stuart, and three women, the first female state legislators in the country. She reported on the election in an article written for Women’s Era, the first monthly newspaper published by and for African-American women, founded and edited by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin.

In 1904, she founded the Colorado Association of Colored Women’s Clubs with a focus on community and education programs. In her club work, she also served as the only black member of the Colorado Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Elizabeth died in 1919 and was buried in Denver’s Riverside Cemetery. In 2005, Sheba R. Wheeler of The Denver Post reported on a project which examined burial records at Riverside Cemetery in Denver. Riverside is one of the oldest cemeteries in Denver and the records proved to be a goldmine of information about the African-Americans living in the area in the late 19th century. Among them were the records of Elizabeth and her family. Although sources say that the Ensleys moved to Denver in 1890, Elizabeth’s husband died in 1888 in Denver. The couple had two children, Roger G. Ensley (1883-1915) and Charlotte Ensley Britton (1885-1948) who are also buried at Riverside.

The history of African-American women may have been forgotten, or suppressed, in the past, but hopefully this is changing.


“The African-American Suffragists History Forgot” by Lynn Yaeger, Vogue
Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Autry National Center of the American West
Elizabeth Piper Ensley at Find A Grave
Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Women of the West Museum
Denver cemetery’s data “very valuable” to state” by Sheba R. Wheeler, The Denver Post

10 Women Who Refused to Give Up Their Seats Before Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks c. 1955 (source)

Rosa Parks c. 1955 (source)

When Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, the community didn’t hesitate to rally around her and begin the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was a pillar in the community with an unimpeachable character. She was also an activist with experience in the civil rights movement, and the perfect person to give a face to the struggle.

Rosa was seated in the “colored section” of the bus when the “white section” filled up and the driver told her to move. She refused to obey and was subsequently arrested. Her action prompted the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was an active civil rights worker and at the time secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP. Although her court case became bogged down in state courts, her action, the boycott, and the successful case of Browder v. Gayle, finally brought about desegregation of the city’s bus system.

This post is intended in no way to take away from what Mrs. Parks did. Rather it is to highlight the fact that there were many brave women who took similar actions.

Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith

Each of these four women were arrested during 1955 for refusing to give up their seats on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Of these four women, Claudette Colvin is probably the most well-known. On March 2, Claudette was forcibly removed from a bus for refusing to give her seat to a white man. She was 15 years old, a student at Booker T. Washington High School, and an active member of the NAACP’s Youth Council. Initially, it was thought that her case might be used to organize a boycott, but when they discovered that Claudette was pregnant the idea was put on hold.

However, after the boycott began, following Parks arrest, attorneys Fred Gray, E.D. Nixon, and Clifford Durr decided to initiate a civil action suit separate from Parks’ case. When Browder, McDonald, Colvin, and Smith agreed to be plaintiffs, they filed Browder v. Gayle in District Court. Another woman, Jeanette Reese, was initially part of the suit but withdrew because of intimidation from the white community. On June 13, 1956, the district court ruled that the bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the decision was affirmed by the US Supreme Court on November 13, 1956.

Sarah Keys

In 1952, Sarah Keys was a WAC private headed home on furlough from Fort Dix, New Jersey. The bus was integrated; the decision in Morgan v. Virginia had declared Jim Crow laws inoperable on interstate buses in 1946. When Sarah boarded a Carolina Trailways bus in Washington DC, she had no difficulties, but when a new driver took over in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina he demanded that she move to the “colored section” of the bus and give her seat to a white marine.

When she refused to give up her seat, the driver directed all the passengers to another bus and prevented Sarah from boarding. An altercation resulted and Sarah was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. She was kept in jail overnight without being allowed to contact anyone, convicted and charged a fine of $25.

Sarah and her father contacted the NAACP and were referred to Dovey Johnson Roundtree and her law partner Julius Winfield Robertson. Roundtree had been a WAC recruiter in the Deep South and had a similar experience in 1943, in Florida. It was a long battle, but eventually, on November 7, 1955, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a ruling in Sarah’s favor, finding that forced segregation violated the Interstate Commerce Act.

Sadly, in his position as Chairman of the Commission, J. Monroe Johnson (from South Carolina), failed to enforce the ruling. It wasn’t until after the violence during the Freedom Riders campaign that the Commission was forced to implement their ruling by US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Irene Morgan

Unlike Rosa Parks, Irene Morgan wasn’t trained in non-violent civil disobedience, so when she was told to move to give up her seat to a white couple, she fought back physically. On July 16, 1944, Irene was seated in the “colored section” of a Greyhound bus when a white couple boarded. Irene and the woman seated next to her were told to move further back. When she refused, the angry driver drove to the jail in the town of Saluda, Virginia, where she was presented with an arrest warrant.

Irene tore up the arrest warrant. When an officer tried to grab her, she kicked him in “a very bad place.” She clawed and tore the shirt of another officer. When she was finally subdued and dragged off of the bus, she was charged with resisting arrest and violating Virginia’s segregation laws. She pleaded guilty of resisting arrest and paid a $100 fine. However, she pleaded not guilty to the violation of the segregation laws and refused to pay the $10 fine.

Eventually, her case, Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, made it to the Supreme Court, with a legal team led by Thurgood Marshall, and won. On June 3, 1946, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in interstate travel was unconstitutional. Although the ruling was ignored in much of the South, the Freedom Riders paid tribute to Irene, “Get on the bus, sit anyplace, ‘Cause Irene Morgan won her case. You don’t have to ride Jim Crow.”

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells c. 1893 (source)

Ida B. Wells c. 1893 (source)

On May 4, 1884, a conductor on a Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company train asked Ida Wells to give up her first class seat to a white man and move to the “Jim Crow” car, which also happened to be the smoking car. The 1875 Civil Rights Act banned discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color on public transport, but this was in Memphis, Tennessee, and several companies ignored the ruling, especially in the south where they could get away with it. (This was before the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision of “separate but equal.”)

Ida refused to give up her seat saying that the other car was a smoker and she was in the ladies’ car. The conductor tried to remove her and she held on to the seat and bit the back of his hand. He then went for help from two other men and the three of them succeeded in dragging her out of the train.

Ida hired an attorney, who was paid off by the company, then hired another attorney who won the case in the local circuit court with an award of $500. The company appealed, however, and the decision was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth (source)

Sojourner Truth (source)

In 1865, Sojourner Truth refused to give up her seat and challenged the segregated horse car system in Washington DC. Usually drivers refused to stop when she wanted to ride, even when they did, they insisted that she ride in the Jim Crow car. Sojourner complained to the president of the car system and the Jim Crow car was removed.

Once when a driver refused to stop, she began yelling “I want to ride!” It startled so many people that traffic came to a stop and she was able to get on the horse car. When told to go ride up where the horses were, outside the actual car, she refused. She told him she wasn’t from Virginia or Maryland, but New York, and knew the law and wouldn’t be intimidated!

On another occasion she was slammed up against a door. Reporting the incident got the driver dismissed. Sojourner continued her riding campaign, encouraging others to do the same. According to Margaret Washington, “She acted boldly, and with flair. She knew that because her name was known, she could focus attention on the illegality and injustice of segregation. She repeated her ride-ins often enough and over a long enough period of time to drive home her point.”

Elizabeth Jennings Graham
Elizabeth Jennings Graham c. 1895 (source)

Elizabeth Jennings Graham c. 1895 (source)

Elizabeth Jennings was a schoolteacher and the church organist at the First Colored American Congregational Church in New York City, and on July 16th, 1864 she was running late. She and her friend, Sarah Adams, hailed a horse-drawn streetcar and didn’t notice if there was a sign saying that “Negro Persons” were allowed on the car. The conductor told them to get off and Elizabeth refused telling him he was an “impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church.”

Sarah got off, but Elizabeth clung to the window frame when he tried to force her off. The conductor drove on, but stopped when he saw a police officer. When the officer boarded, he pushed Elizabeth off of the car and to the sidewalk, damaging her bonnet and dress.

Elizabeth wrote a letter detailing her treatment. It was read in church and sent to Horace Greeley’s newspaper, The New York Daily Tribune. Her father also contacted a lawyer, Chester Arthur, the future US President. Arthur won the case against the Third Avenue Railway Company, saying that “colored persons” couldn’t be kept off of public transportation by company rules “nor by force or violence.”

Frances Watkins Harper
Frances Watkins Harper (source)

Frances Watkins Harper (source)

Frances Watkins Harper was writer, teacher, and public speaker, lecturing on abolitionism, prohibition, and women’s suffrage, both before and after the Civil War. During the Reconstruction era, she also traveled in the south to report on living conditions of freedmen.  In April of 1858, while traveling in Pennsylvania, she was asked to leave one of the city cars. She refused and told her own story in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison’s paper The Liberator.

“The other day, in attempting to ride in one of the city cars, after I had entered, the conductor came to me, and wanted me to go out on the platform. Now, was not that brave and noble? As a matter of course, I did not. Some one interfered, and asked or requested that I might be permitted to sit in a corner. I did not move, but kept the same seat. When I was about to leave, he refused my money, and I threw it down on the car floor, and got out, after I had ridden as far as I wished. Such Impudence!”

"The Liberator" (April 23, 1858) article by Frances Watkins Harper

“The Liberator” (April 23, 1858) article by Frances Watkins Harper

Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks
Keys v. Carolina Coach Co. at Wikipedia
Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia
Ida B. Wells and Her Passion for Justice
Sojourner Truth: A Life Led By Faith
The Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Margaret Washington
The Schoolteacher on the Streetcar (Elizabeth Jennings)
The Liberator (April 23, 1858) – article written by Frances Watkins Harper

Celebrating Black History Month Part 3

Here’s one last post of the women we’ve highlighted on the Saints, Sisters, and Sluts Facebook page for Black History Month. There are many more women who have made considerable contributions and done amazing things. It’s impossible to include them all. I know I have learned a lot though and have a basis to build on for future blog posts. I hope you’ve learned something along the way as well.

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs by Rotograph Co., New York City, 1909

Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879 – 1961) was an educator, orator, religious leader, and business woman. She helped found the National Association of Colored Women and worked within the National Baptist Convention. In 1909, she founded the National Training School for Women and Girls. The school emphasized preparation for occupations, but also stressed being proud black women. To this end students were required to take a class in African American history and culture.

Willa Brown

Willa Brown

Willa Brown (1906 – 1992) was a teacher, social worker, pilot, and flight instructor, the first black woman officer in the Civil Air Patrol and the first black woman to hold a commercial pilot’s license in the US. With Cornelius R. Coffey (her husband and flight instructor) she established the Coffey School of Aeronautics to train pilots and mechanics.

She helped found the National Airmen’s Association of America in 1939 and lobbied for integration of black pilots into the Army Air Corps and the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The Coffey School was selected by the US Army to provide black trainees for the Air Corps pilot training program at the Tuskegee Institute.

Sissieretta Jones

Sissieretta Jones

Sissieretta Jones (1868? – 1933) was an American soprano who sang both opera and popular music. After beginning in the choir of her father’s African Methodist Episcopal church, Sissieretta went on to sing for 4 consecutive US Presidents and the British Royal Family.

Sissieretta Jones was sometimes referred to as "The Black Patti"

Sissieretta Jones was sometimes referred to as “The Black Patti”

She studied at the Providence Academy of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1888, she came to the attention of Adelina Patti’s manager who suggested that she tour with the Fisk Jubilee singers. Adelina Patti was a successful Italian opera singer. Sissieretta was sometimes referred to as “The Black Patti.”

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842 – 1924) was an African American publisher, journalist, civil rights leader, suffragist and the founder and editor of Women’s Era, the first journal written by and for African American women. Together with her husband George Lewis Ruffin (who had a number of first’s to his name, including first African American male graduate from Harvard Law School,) Josephine worked to recruit black soldiers to the Union cause during the Civil War and to support the men in the field.

In 1869, Josephine joined with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1895, she organized the Nation Federation of Afro-American Women which later merged with the Colored Women’s League to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs with Mary Church Terrell at its head.

“The Ruffin Incident” occurred when Josephine intended to attend the meeting of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1900. She was representing two integrated groups (the New England Woman’s Club and the New England Woman’s Press Club) and one all black group, the New Era Club. When southern leaders discovered that the New Era Club was an all black organization they refused to let her represent them, but said she could participate as a representative of the other groups. She refused to compromise. The incident was widely reported across the country with much support for Ruffin.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917 – 1977) was a voting rights advocate and civil rights activist. In 1962, in spite of the danger, she joined a group of people inspired by James Bevel and traveled to Indianola MS to register to vote. It was a very dangerous thing for African Americans to attempt to vote in the South at the time, so to bolster the groups courage she began to sing Christian hymns. This became her trademark as she organized other groups to register. Her courage brought her to the attention of leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who recruited her to speak and organize.

Hamer is probably best known for her speech given to the Credential’s Committee at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. The Mississippi Democratic Party sent an all white and anti-civil rights delegation. In response Hamer with others formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Committee to challenge the all white delegation as not representing all of Mississippi. Ultimately, the compromise offered by the Convention was unacceptable to the MFDC, but the Democratic Party adopted a clause demanding equality of representation from all state delegations. Fannie Lou Hamer was selected as a delegate to the 1968 Convention.

There are several women I highlighted on the FB page, but not in these posts because they already appear in other blog posts. If you’re interested here are the names and links.

Marian Anderson
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary Ann Shadd

In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2.

Celebrating Black History Month Part 2

I want to continue sharing brief information on the black women I’ve learned about during Black History Month. The more women I’ve researched this month, the more I have discovered. There is an embarrassment of riches in this area that has been unknown to me. One reason is the overshadowing, during their time, of black women by white women they worked jointly with such as Josephine Ruffin who worked with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman’s Suffrage Association. There is also the simple fact that women and African Americans are not fully present in the typical history curriculum. To anyone who thinks that we don’t need to emphasize Black History or Women’s History, I challenge you to do what I have done this month and search the internet for one person they have never heard of each day. You may be surprised.

Now for more black women from the SSS Facebook page. There are two women who should be remembered as the earliest African American female physicians: Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca Cole.

Dr. Rebecca Lee

Dr. Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831 – 1895) was the first African-American woman to become a physician. She graduated in 1864 from the New England Female Medical College. After graduation and the end of the Civil War, she worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau and other community groups to provide medical services to freed slaves in Richmond, VA. Later she returned to practice in her home in Boston, MA. Most of what we know about her comes from the introduction to her book “Book on Medical Discourse,” written from her clinical notes and published in 1883.

Rebecca Cole (source)

Rebecca Cole (source)

Rebecca Cole (1846 – 1922) was the second African-American female doctor. She graduated in 1867 from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and received her clinical training at Elizabeth Blackwell’s New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She practiced medicine for over 50 years working primarily with destitute women and children.

Sarah Early

Sarah Early

Sarah Jane Woodson Early (1825 – 1907) was the first African American women to become a college faculty member. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1856 and two years later took a position at Wilberforce College. The college had to close during the Civil War due to lack of funds, but for the next 40 years Sarah Jane was a teacher and school principal in Ohio and, after the war, in the South.

In 1868, Sarah Jane married the Rev. Jordan Winston Early, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and continued teaching and working with him in his ministry. She also traveled and lectured as the national superintendent of the Black division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1894, she published a biography of her husband including both his life as a slave and his ministry.

Fannie Williams

Fannie Williams

Fannie Williams (1855 – 1944) was a teacher, lecturer, and social reformer. She helped organize Provident Hospital and its Training school for Nurses in Chicago (both interracial institutions.) After speaking at both the World’s Congress of Representative Women and the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, she was in great demand as a lecturer.

Fannie helped found the National Association of Colored Women, was among the founding members of the NAACP, and became the first Black member of the Chicago Woman’s Club. She wrote frequently for Chicago newspapers and in 1924 became the first African American and the first woman to be named to the Chicago Library Board. She also believed in a fully integrated women’s movement and was chosen as the only African American to eulogize Susan B. Anthony at the 1907 Women’s Suffrage Convention.

Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis (1844 – 1907) was an American sculptor of African American and Native American descent. She attended Oberlin College where she began sculpting and quickly became successful. She held her first solo exhibition in 1864 and produced popular works such as medallion portraits of John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison.

In 1865 Lewis went to Rome to study where she spent much of her adult life working and studying. One of her major works was a marble sculpture called “The Death of Cleopatra.” It was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this monumental piece (3000 lbs) was lost for almost 100 years. It was rediscovered, although covered in paint, and finally restored and donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1994.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000) was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Raised in Chicago, she had approximately 75 published poems by the time she was 16. In 1943, she received her first award and in 1945 her first book “A Street in Bronzeville” was published to critical acclaim.

“Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words.” Gwendolyn Brooks on Poetry

In 1950, Brooks became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with her book “Annie Allen.” She received many other awards including the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement, the National Medal of Arts, and was honored as the first Woman of the Year chosen by the Harvard Black Men’s Forum.

Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry, born Feb 17, 1938, was Provost at the University of Maryland, Chancellor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Assistant Secretary for Education in the US Dept of Health, Education, and Welfare. She received her education at Howard University, and the University of Michigan, obtaining  Ph. D. and J. D. degrees.

Berry was one of the founders of the Free South Africa movement and she was arrested and jailed several times due to her support of the cause. She was in Capetown in 1990 to greet Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison.

In 1980, Berry was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a Commissioner on the US Commission of Civil Rights. She was later fired by President Reagan for criticizing his stand on civil rights and won her reinstatement through the federal courts. She was appointed Chairperson of the Commission by President Clinton and served until her resignation in 2004. Since then she has been a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Audrey Lord

Audre Lord

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was an American poet, essayist, and activist of Caribbean descent. She was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Later she also became active in lesbian and gay rights causes. She co-founded “Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press” with author Barbara Smith, the first US publisher specifically for women of color. She was the State Poet of New York.

“I am defined as other in every group I’m part of”, she declared, “the outsider, both strength and weakness. Yet without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression.”

Lorde described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She believed that the typical feminist approach of defining things and issues based only on gender was simplistic, if perhaps necessary, and that there were other issues of difference that needed to be addressed.

Violette Neatley Anderson

Violette Neatley Anderson

Violette Neatley Anderson (1882 – 1937) was an African American attorney and judge with many “firsts” to her name. Anderson was born in London and moved to the US as a young child with her family. After graduating from Chicago Law School in 1920, she became the first African American woman admitted to the Illinois bar, the first female city prosecutor in Chicago, the first African American woman to practice law in the US District Court Eastern Division, and the first African American woman admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court.

Pearl Bailey on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968

Pearl Bailey on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968

Pearl Mae Bailey (1918 – 1990) was known as an actress and singer, but she was much more. She wrote 4 books and at 67 earned a degree in Theology from Georgetown University. At 15, she won an amateur contest and decided to pursue a career in entertainment. Beginning in vaudeville, she made her Broadway debut in 1946 in St. Louis Woman. She won a Tony Award for the lead role in the all-black production of Hello Dolly in 1968. Her career was varied including both movie and television, voices for animation, even commercial jingles. During WW2, Bailey sang with the USO; she also sang in nightclubs with some of the greats including Duke Ellington.

One more post tomorrow will let me finish up the brief information I’ve posted on these women for the month. If you missed them be sure to read Part 1 and Part 3.