She Used Her Education To Help Her People

Black women sitting on stairs
Shonda Buchanan
February 18, 2021

Mary Church Terrell was taught that our children’s education was the key to our future. But the further she took her own education, the more she realized it was all for nothing if she couldn’t help her people. In fact, she realized, that was her duty.

She was in W.E.B. DuBois’ “Talented Tenth,” elite Black people whose college degrees obligated them to give back. Her focus? Protesting D.C.'s segregated hotels and restaurants, creating Black curricula, and fighting for women’s voting rights by co-founding the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896. She also dedicated her life to fighting two horrifying things.

The lynching of Black men AND penal labor, aka convict leasing – essentially enslaving Black convicts. She confronted these horrible phenomena with a powerful book that demanded an end to such inhuman treatment.

While lynching continued, her book became an important tool to galvanize people against this egregious crime.

She used her education as activism and tools to uplift the Black community, eventually becoming the first Black woman appointed to the Washington D.C.’s Board of Education. But her crowning achievement? Being a founding member of the NAACP! 

She embodied the NACW's motto, "Lifting as we climb." How are you using the opportunities you’ve been afforded to support your people?

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