Muckrakers & Reformers
Mary Church Terrell in Muckrakers & Reformers
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) was a prominent African-American activist who served as president of the National Association of Colored Women, the only national organization that represented black women during the Progressive Era. She supported the women's suffrage movement as a "prospective enfranchisement of my sex" and an "emancipation of my race."5
Terrell was born into an elite family in the black community of Memphis, Tennessee, and was one of very few African-American women to attend college during the late nineteenth century. She worked to apply the "Social Gospel" of Christian uplift and charity to her fellow African-Americans, and sought to shield them from whites' charges that they were biologically inferior. In their defense, Terrell pointed to the terrible living and working conditions that confronted blacks in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She was a popular lecturer who condemned segregation, and even at the age of 89 (three years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white man), Terrell led picket lines in protest against discrimination in District of Columbia restaurants and department stores.