We are in our second year now telling the remarkable stories of Black Women in America. Many of these women are well-known; many have been forgotten. All of them deserve to be remembered.

Last month – Black History Month – we honored four female African American activists. The brave actions of these women were responsible for changing laws and attitudes in America to make life better for black people.

First Week: Harriet Tubman – Moses for her people (1820-1913)

Second Week: Ida B. Wells – Tireless Crusade against Lynching (1862-1931)

Third Week: Rosa Parks – Mother of the Civil Rights Movement (1913-2005)

Fourth Week: Rev. Addie Wyatt – Fighting for Justice– (1924-2012)

This month we will continue to explore the stories of those black female activists who accomplished much beginning with Mary Church Terrell – The Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital (1863-1954). 

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell – Educator, Writer, Gender and Social Justice

I will be 90 on the 23rd of September and will die happy that children of my group will not grow up thinking they are inferior because they are deprived of rights which children of other racial groups enjoy.[1]                  Mary Church Terrell

This was Mary Church Terrell’s comment after the decision was made by the Supreme Court in 1953 against the John R. Thompson restaurant for not serving black people. There was a statute in Washington D.C. that said that businesses must not refuse service based on race, but the laws were routinely ignored. Black people did not have the right to sue, so they could be refused service without consequences to the businesses. Mary sought and succeeded in getting this injustice changed.

Mary Church Terrell was born on September 23, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee to parents who were freed from slavery. Mary had one brother. Her parents, Robert Reed Church and Louisa Ayers became successful businesspeople. Robert became one of the South’s first African American millionaires. Louisa Ayres Church owned a hair salon. Both parents believed in the power and efficacy of education. Mary and her brother both went to school. Mary did not waste these advantages.

Though her parents divorced, her father remained an influence and was supportive of Mary’s education. Mary lived with her mother and started to attend school in Memphis. But the schools for “colored” children[2] were poorly run so in 1871 Louisa sent Mary to Yellow Springs, Ohio for her education. Mary attended the Antioch College-associated Model School for four years. This great education would set the foundation for her life, including education, writing, and activism. Even at this school, Mary was faced with racial discrimination, but she overcame the problem with resoluteness and strength of character. An example of her valiant spirit is demonstrated by one time at school when she was first confronted with racial discrimination; “It dawned on me with terrific force that these young white girls were making fun of me, were laughing at me, because I was colored…I ran to the door, stopped, turned around, and hurled back defiantly, ‘I don’t want my face to be white like yours and look like milk. I want it nice and dark just like it is.’”[3]

This feistiness would last throughout Mary’s life. Her good education, public speaking ability, and desire to make life better for women and blacks served her well as she fought for equal rights and opportunities for all. 

Mary went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Classics at Oberlin College. She was often the only woman, white or black enrolled in this field which was mostly made up of white men. She also earned a master’s degree, and by 1888 she was one of the few black women in the United States to hold both degrees. After graduating she taught at Wilberforce University for two years and later at the M Street High School in Washington, D.C. This was where she met her future husband, Robert Herberton Terrell. They married in 1891. Sadly, she had trouble with her first three pregnancies and lost those children early in their marriage. They were blessed later with one surviving daughter, Phyllis, and later adopted their niece, Mary.

Other influences in Mary’s life included her lifelong friend, Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Dubois who made Mary a charter member of his organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. She and her husband also knew Booker T. Washington, who invited Mary to his school commencement and possibly used his influence to get Robert Terrell a judgeship appointment. 

Mary is in the near center of the back row with the large hat.

She associated with Susan B. Anthony who allowed Mary to speak at suffrage meetings. Mary saw this as a way to raise the status of all women, including black women. She fought for women’s suffrage and civil rights because she belonged “to the only group in this country that has two such huge obstacles to surmount…both sex and race.” 

In 1892, Mary’s activism was ignited when an old friend, Thomas Moss, was lynched in Memphis by white men who did not like the business competition. Mary joined with Ida B. Wells (see our post February 14, 2923) in her anti-lynching campaigns. Both women were involved with many campaigns to help black people. Mary helped to found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). She was their president from 1896 to 1901. In 1910 she cofounded the College Alumnae Club, later renamed he National Association of University Women.

Mary was active in the suffrage movement, even picketing the White House during the Wilson administration. After the 19th amendment passed, she focused on broader civil rights issues. She had helped white women get their suffrage passed only to be disappointed with the lack of support for black women, even though “colored women need it more”. For African American women the Voting Rights Act of 1963 finally removed the barriers to voting for black women. (Mary did not live to see this; she died in 1954.)

In 1940, Mary published her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World[4] In 1948, she became the first black member of the American Association of University Women. This was only after she won her battle against the discrimination of the AAUW who contested her membership for three years. In 1949, the national chapter agreed to accept black women, but Mary’s local chapter seceded rather than admit her.[5]

You might think a woman in her eighties would slow down, but here’s where her story gets super-exciting for me (and you, I hope!). In 1950 at the age of 86 this indomitable woman walked into a restaurant in Washington, D.C. just a few blocks from the White House and asked for service. Mary and three responsible and respectable compatriots, Reverend William Jernagin, Geneva Brown, and David Scull went to Thompson’s restaurant on January 30, 1950, and sought service.[6] They were rebuffed. The manager of Thompson’s informed them that they could not eat there because they were “colored”. 

There were statutes that said that they should be served, but many businesses ignored them, mainly because black citizens were not empowered to press charges on their own. The business owners could then try and curry favor with whites by just refusing service to blacks knowing there was no “teeth” in the laws.

Then began a three-year battle in the Supreme Court for justice for black citizens. Eventually in June 1953 the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc. invalidated the segregation of restaurants in the nation’s capital. This was a landmark decision and a capstone for Mary’s life. 

Mary in her later years.

Mary had many advantages as a black woman including influential friends and a supportive husband. She suffered from the same prejudice as other black people, yet she maintained a lifelong revulsion against injustice. She fought racism right up until her death. She died (July 24, 1954) only a few weeks after Brown v. Board of Education (May 17, 1954). Her work was pivotal in the fight for equality, giving impetus to the racial movement. Several years later Rosa Parks would refuse to go to the back of a bus (See post February 21, 2023). Within 10 years the sit-in movement would get the attention of the many remaining segregated counters in the South.

Mary deserves an important place in the history of the civil rights movement, not just for racial issues but also for gender issues. She was intelligent, kind, hardworking, and faithful. I can’t wait to meet her when I get to Heaven. 

[1] Joan Quigley. Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital. (Oxford University Press, 2016) page 228.

[2] As I have mentioned in all my posts, I will use the historica references for African Americans. If nothing else, looking at how the terminology has changed shows us how far we have come in respecting black people more.

[3] Madison Good, “Mary Church Terrell”, January 5, 2022. https://www.ohiohistory.org/mary-church-terrell/

[4] Still available on Amazon and other bookseller sites.

[5] I guess white women can be just as prejudiced as white men.

[6] Joan Quigley. Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital (Oxford University Press, 2016) page 143.

A New Website

Dear Readers,

Thank you for following the stories of amazing women in history on this blogsite. I am excited to be able to share more with you than the wonderful stories of the incredible women that God has called and gifted to serve Him in the Bible and history and so I have officially opened up a new website:

Meditations with Mary

There are stories, quotes, podcasts, information on my books, and other resources.

There will be a newsletter with recent information.

It is live now! Please visit the site and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter.

We’re still sorting details, but please click on the button and try it out. By the way, if it doesn’t take you to my site, please let me know so I can fix it!!!

Website: https://authormarywalker.com/meditations-with-mary/

When you click on the link above you will be directed to my new home page. You will be able to choose from a list of topics.

Topics on my new site are:

The Home Page – From here you can choose to go to the stories, or look at the books I have written (including Audiobooks), podcasts, resources, or contact me. PLEASE SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER. 

Meditations with Mary – Here you will find nearly 500 stories of women in the Bible and History.

About -Here you will find a description of the website and the reason why I began a blog and then a website.

Books – I have written two books and a third one is at the publisher.

Audiobooks – The first two books can be purchased as Audiobooks. 

Podcasts – I have a series entitled “The Female Ancestors of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Here you will find 9 podcasts of the named female ancestors of Jesus starting with Eve and finishing with Mary.

Resources – I have only a few favorite resources listed at this time. I will continue to add more. Please send your suggestions.

Contact – I welcome your comments. Please contact me with your feedback.

Each week I will include a bit of wisdom from one of the many women whose stories are on the site. For example:

“For peace in the world, it takes a bonding together of God’s people who believe in peace.

It takes a bonding together of those who are willing to walk together, for those who are overlooking those idiosyncrasies that have kept us apart.”

Rev. Addie L. Wyatt

I will continue to post stories on this blog for a few weeks. Then when you come here, you should be directed to the website.

Next week look for another story on a remarkable black female first – Mary Church Terrell. 

God bless you all,


Black Women in America – Part 31

We are in our second year now telling the remarkable stories of Black Women in America. I thought this series would take 1 year, but actually I could go on for many years. So, I am focusing on Black Female Firsts. We began during Black History Month in 2022 with the stories of African American women in the field of education including the first black women to earn PhD’s and the first to found schools and make other changes in education. Our series continued with black female writers, artists, scientists, doctors, inventors, athletes, and entertainers. Now in this second year, we will look at the stories of activists, political leaders, religious leaders and many more.

This month – Black History Month – we are honoring four African American activists. The brave actions of these women changed things in America for the better.

First Week: Harriet Tubman – Moses for her people (1820-1913)

Second Week: Ida B. Wells – Tireless Crusade against Lynching (1862-1931)

Third Week: Rosa Parks – Mother of the Civil Rights Movement (1913-2005)

This Week: Rev. Addie Wyatt – Fighting for Justice– (1924-2012)

Reverend Addie Wyatt – Fighting for Justice 

Addie Wyatt believed in a universal, God-given human equality, inclusive of freedom from racial oppression, discrimination, sexism, and poverty, which denied human beings access to their full potential.[1]

In our series on African American firsts, Addie Wyatt is important as a leader in many movements – labor, civil rights, women rights, and religious commitment. Addie believed in a holistic gospel – every area of life is connected – and we can see from her life that she practiced her faith. Addie worked tirelessly in all these areas to achieve justice for all no matter their station in life.


Addie L. Wyatt (then Cameron) was born on March 8, 1924, in Brookhaven, Mississippi as the eldest of 8 children. Her mother gave them a Christian upbringing, taking them to church and even encouraging her children to be involved. When Addie was only 3 years old, she gave her first recitation. This was a foreshadow of her five-decades long speaking career. The family moved to Chicago in 1930. When she was only 17, Addie married Claude S. Wyatt, Jr. 

In 1941, Addie began working in the meatpacking industry. She wanted to work as a typist, but black women were denied clerical positions. She took a job canning stew for the army. She actually made more money working on the packinghouse floor than she would have made as a typist.  In 1942 she joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA). This union was seen as one of the most progressive allowing memberships to many blacks and females. 

Addie agreed with the non-discriminatory view of the UPWA and became active in the organization. In 1953 Addie was elected vice-president of the local chapter. In 1954 she became the First woman president of the local chapter and later the international representative. She remained in this position for many years. She also became the First black female international vice-president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen. Later she served as the Director of Civil Rights and Women’s Affairs of the 1.5-million-member United Food and Commercial Workers (one of the largest in the then AFL-CIO). 

In 1975 in honor of her work, she was named one of the twelve most influential woman in America and her picture appeared on Time MagazineEbony Magazine also listed her as one of the 100 most influential Black Americans from 1980-1984, Addie was the highest ranked woman of the organized labor movement when she retired in 1984. An Addie L. Wyatt Award was established in 1987 by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Addie as inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.

Civil Rights

In 1974 Addie became the director of the Women’s Affairs Department in the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen. Addie was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the only national union for women at the time. She delivered a keynote address to 3200 participants. Addie was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. 

Addie joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in civil rights marches. She participated in the march on Washington and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and a major demonstration in Chicago. She helped found Operation Breadbasket. She raised fund for those left without a job during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (See last week’s story on Rosa Parks.) 

Eleanor Roosevelt appointed Addie to serve on the Labor Legislation Committee of the Commission on the Status of Women. Addie also served on the Protective Labor Legislation Committee of President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1962. Addie worked toward the Equal Rights Amendment and advocated for better medical care for women, equal pay for women, and access to quality childcare.

Religious Commitment

Addie and Martin Luther King, Jr. developed a close relationship not only as civil rights activists, but as spiritual leaders. They agreed that involvement with the working class was crucial, and they supported each other’s efforts. Dr. King was a Baptist and Addie was an ordained minister in the Church of God but they both believed in the social gospel. Like Jesus, they believed in words and actions and that the two must go hand in hand. 

In 1955, Addie and Claude founded the Vernon Park Church of God on the south side of Chicago. At first the congregation was small, but it grew over the years and the members were always willing to support civil rights activities and labor-based campaigns in the city. The church became known for its work among homeless people, seniors, and youth. 

In 1968 Addie was ordained in the Church of God. She was one of the few women who sought ordination, but she wanted women to be able to participate fully in what had been traditionally male-only roles. Her husband, Claude believed that individuals are directly accountable to God, and he supported her as a co-pastor. Addie would address hundreds of audiences around the country over the rest of her life on what she believed to be important for the transformation of societal thought on gender roles. She found the basis for equality in the Bible (Proverbs 31, Galatians 3:26-28). Addie believed the Scriptures taught the humanity and dignity of all people. 

“What shaped Wyatt’s theology was the combination or intersectionality of her life’s experiences – her faith and family history in the Church of God; her personal experiences with poverty, racism, and sexism; and her movement activism and leadership.”[2] The thread that held her activities together was her spiritual faith and a belief in racial, gender, and economic equality. 

Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s Addie’s speaking engagements lessened, but she remained well-known as a national activist in labor and racial and women’s rights. Addie suffered a stroke and along with her arthritis was confined to a wheelchair. Claude developed Alzheimer’s. Thankfully because of their many years of service to others, family and friends were able to provide the daily care that they both needed. Only April 10, 2010, Claude passed away. On March 28, 2012, Addie, age 88, joined him in Heaven. 

[1] Marcia Walker-McWilliams. Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016) page 2.

[2] Ibid., page 155

Black Women in America – Part 30

It has been my privilege to relate the stories of remarkable black women in America. We began during Black History Month in 2022 with the stories of African American women in the field of education. We told of the first black women to earn PhD’s and then female African American educators. Our series continued with black female writers, artists, scientists, doctors, inventors, athletes, and entertainers. This year we will look at the stories of activists, political leaders, religious leaders and many more.

This month – Black History Month – we are honoring four African American activists. The brave actions of these women changed things in America for the better.

First Week: Harriet Tubman, Moses to her people (1820-1913)

Last Week: Ida B. Wells, Tireless Crusade against lynching (1862-1931)

This Week: Rosa Parks – Mother of the Civil Rights Movement (1913-2005)

Next Week: Rev. Addie Wyatt – Justice for Everyone (1924-2012)

Rosa Parks – Mother of the Civil Rights Movement

Lat time we told the story of Ida B. Wells, a very significant woman in history. Recall that Ida B. Wells took her stand for freedom in 1884 while riding on a train. Ida suffered humiliation and abuse as a black woman. Ida was riding the train between Memphis and Nashville. She had bought a first-class ticket and expected to use it. Ida got into the first-class compartment for whites only. The train officials told her to get in the “Negro”[1] car instead and she refused to move. The railway men physically removed her. Ida sued the railroad and won a settlement, but the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned it. Ida B. Wells had been an activist seventy years before Rosa Parks. 

Following in Ida’s footsteps, in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of a bus where the “colored” people were supposed to sit. Rosa’s act of defiance was the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Rosa McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on February 4, 1913. She met Raymond Parks and they married when she was 19 years old. They lived in Montgomery Alabama.

Raymond was a barber and Rosa worked at a department store. She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1943. She was the secretary for the organization.

During this period of time, segregation laws forced black people to sit at the back of buses. If the seats for white people were full, black people had to give up their seats or get off of the bus. On December 1, 1955 Rosa got on the bus after work as usual and sat in the black section. As the bus began to fill up the bus driver moved the “colored” sign further back and told Rosa to move back. She refused. The bus driver got off and called for the police.

Rosa was arrested and charged with breaking Montgomery’s segregation laws. She went to jail until some friends could bail her out. Rosa’s act of defiance was the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Inspired by her courage and the preaching of Martin Luther King Jr., a bus boycott began. Beginning on Monday, December 5 thousands of people stayed off of the buses. They found other ways to get to work sometimes even walking for miles. The bus companies began to lose a lot of money. After 381 days the city of Montgomery got rid of the busing segregation laws. This was a huge victory for the Civil Rights movement.

But it caused hard times for Rosa and Raymond. 
They both lost their jobs. They suffered harassment and threat of bodily harm. Finally, they made the decision to move to Detroit, Michigan.

As the Civil Rights movement grew Rosa continued to work for equality for African Americans. In 1987, Rosa founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. She also received many awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1996. In 1999, she received the Congressional Gold Medal.

 Rosa died at age 92 on October 24, 2005. She was honored greatly by being buried at the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. More than 50,000 people attended her ceremony.

Rosa is one of those people whose lives changed history. She is a hero to all.

I watched a movie produced about Rosa Parks starring Angela Bassett called “The Rosa Parks Story”. It was released in 2002 by Xenon Pictures. It was beautifully done. Rosa was just an ordinary person who took an extraordinary stand against injustice.

The movie tells of her early life, romance, and marriage. The struggles that Rosa went through affected her relationship with Raymond, but they weathered the storms together. I hope you will see the movie. You will be inspired and touched.

[1] In the 1800’s African Americans were referred to as “Negroes” or “blacks”. In the mid-twentieth century the term “colored” was common. In these posts we use the term “black” or “African American” women which many prefer.

A Good Move

We Are Moving

Dear Readers,

Thank you for following the stories of amazing women in history on this blogsite. In the next couple of weeks, I will have a new website. As soon as I have the address, I will post it. I believe when you look for my stories here, you will automatically be directed to the new site. Technology is not my thing. Please be patient. Hopefully, everything will work. 

I am very excited about the possibilities for the website. There will be much more than just stories. I will have commentary, famous quotes, guest articles, and news. Please check it out. 

I am just giving a “heads up”!

In the meantime, continue enjoying the stories of amazing Black American Women Firsts on this blog. 

God bless you all,


Black Women in America – Part 29

It has been my privilege to relate the stories of remarkable black women in America. We began during Black History Month in 2022 with the stories of African American women in the field of education. We told of the first black women to earn PhD’s and then female African American educators. Our series continued with black female writers, artists, scientists, doctors, inventors, athletes, and entertainers. This year we will look at the stories of activists, political leaders, religious leaders and many more.

There have been so many courageous female African Americans who sought for justice for their people. We began to cover four of them this month, Black History Month 2023. We are focusing on four women who broke the laws and/or social rules, albeit in a mostly peaceful fashion, to force the culture to deal with the problem of racial prejudice. 

Last Week: Harriet Tubman, Moses to her people (1820-1913)

This Week: Ida B. Wells, Tireless Crusade against lynching (1862-1931)

Next Week: Rosa Parks – Mother of the Civil Rights Movement (1913-2005)

Fourth Week: Rev. Addie Wyatt- Justice for Everyone (1924-2012)

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) Journalist, Business Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Ida B. Wells-Barnett has pretty much been forgotten today, but she was truly one of the bravest and most dedicated women who ever lived in America. She did not sit idly by when she saw the injustice that was being done to people of “color”.[1] She met the challenge head on and I believe that black Americans came to enjoy more of their rights as citizens earlier than they otherwise would have because of her efforts.

Ida was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862. She was the oldest daughter of James and Lizzie Wells who were slaves. After the War ended, James Wells helped to found a school for blacks. Ida attended this school until tragedy struck. 

When Ida was 16 the yellow fever took the lives of both of her parents and one of her siblings. Ida dropped out of school to help take care of her younger sisters. 

In 1882 Ida and her sisters moved to Memphis Tennessee to live with her aunt. Her older brothers had found work. Ida continued her education at Fisk University in Nashville.

A turning point came for Ida one day in 1884 when she was riding the train between Memphis and Nashville. She had bought a first-class ticket and expected to use it. Train officials tried to make her sit in the African American car instead and she refused to move. The railway men physically removed her. Ida sued the railroad and won a settlement, but the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned it. Readers may recall that in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of a bus where the “colored” people were supposed to sit.[2] Rosa went on to become an activist for equal rights for black citizens. Seventy years before this, Ida B. Wells became an activist in her own way. 

Dauntless Ida picked up her pen and began to write about the injustices in the way blacks were treated. Her articles were published in black newspapers and periodicals. She was well received for her honesty and clear statement of the issues. Later Ida would be the owner of the Memphis Free Speech

Another turning point came for Ida when a lynch mob murdered a good friend of Ida’s along with his two business partners. In 1892 Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Will Stewart, African American men, were defending their store against an attack. They shot several attackers, white men. They were arrested, but before they could have the lawful trial that American citizens are entitled to, they were dragged out of their cells and taken a mile out of town to a railroad yard. The men were shot to death in a horrible fashion. 

Ida wrote an editorial deploring the lynching in the Free Speech. Realizing that blacks were helpless against the white “mobocracy” she encouraged Negroes to save their money “and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.” In fact, many thousands did leave Memphis after this. In the late nineteenth century there weren’t many options for African Americans in cities that refused to give them their rights as citizens. 

Ida had proven herself to be a good reporter and writer. With encouragement from friends, Ida traveled throughout the South and gathered stories and information about lynching. One thing that Ida was especially interested in was debunking the myths about the reasons for lynching. One common reason given for the lynching of black men was that they had raped a white woman. Ida gathered evidence that proved that while black men were the most common victims of lynching, black and white women and white men were lynched too. And there were many more reasons for lynching including prejudice, rioting, robbery, fraud, and incendiarism. 

For example, in a speech given to a Chicago audience in 1900, Ida said that out of 241 persons lynched in 1892, 160 were of Negro descent. Not all were in the South; four were lynched in New York. Other victims included several children and five women. 

Ida also went on to report how horrible and full of hatred lynching was. Many times, the bodies would be dismembered, riddled with bullets, or thrown into a fire.

Ida’s reporting was honest and must have been convicting because one day some whites in Memphis had had enough. They stormed the offices of Ida’s newspaper and destroyed all of her equipment. Fortunately, Ida was visiting in New York at the time. Her friends there warned her not to return to Memphis. Her life had been threatened.

This became another turning point in Ida’s life. She would not return to the South again for thirty years. 

While in New York, Ida wrote “The Truth About Lynching”. She meant to wake people up and she did. Tens of thousands of copies were sold. Ida was hailed as a hero at the African American Press Association in Philadelphia.[3]

But this was not enough for Ida. She got the press association to adopt a resolution to raise funds for an anti-lynching campaign. Money was needed for travel, publishing, and on-site investigations of the killings. 

And so, while in exile in the North, Ida began her campaign against lynching. Besides fighting for justice Ida would know the joy of being a wife and mother. She would spearhead the founding of many organizations still with us today that help all Americans enjoy their God-given rights.

Ida was being hailed as a heroine by the African American Press Association in Philadelphia while back in her hometown of Memphis her newspaper office was being destroyed by an angry mob. Her life was threatened and Ida was advised not to try and return home. And so now Ida began her famous campaign against lynching.

In 1893 Ida took her campaign across the ocean to England, Scotland, and Wales. There she gave speeches and met with leaders of British civic groups. Ida was impressed with how active British women were in their campaign for justice. She helped the women in London establish the London Anti-Lynching Committee. She wrote to women at home in America and encouraged them to follow the example of their British counterparts. Ida returned to England again in 1894 on a speaking tour.

On returning home Ida settled in Chicago. She collaborated with Frederick Douglass, the famous advocate of equal civil rights for blacks. At this time she also met her future husband, Ferdinand Barnett. Barnett was a lawyer and the owner of the first black newspaper in Chicago, the Conservator.

They fell in love and married in 1895. Barnett was willing to support Ida completely. He sold the newspaper to her and she took over the duties of editor. This freed Ferdinand Barnett to practice law and actively campaign for “colored rights”. 

In March 1896, Ida became a mother at the age of 33. She had mixed feelings about motherhood. She had taken care of her younger siblings and was happy to have a break from child rearing. Her active public life was also very fulfilling. But after her child was born she understood all the joys of motherhood. 

However, before her first baby was five months old, duty called. Ida traveled with baby Charles and a nurse and continued her campaigning. A year later Ida had another son, Herman, and this time she chose to bow out of public work and stay home and raise her children. She gave up her position as editor at the Conservator and told everyone she was “quite content to be left within the four walls” of her home. Taking one child on the road was difficult but manageable; two children required her to be a full-time mother. Ida was very happy with her decision.

Her decision was short-lived. Three months later the Frazier Baker lynching occurred. This was considered one of the most brutal of all times. People looked to Ida to attend the protests and speak to the injustice. Ida wanted to stay home but explained to the people who were concerned about her new station as a mother that race work was a matter of necessity, not choice. It “seems that the needs of the world were so great that again I had to venture forth, “she insisted. She left baby Charles with his grandmother and took Herman with her on her travels. During this next period of her life she concentrated on getting women organized. 

In 1896 Ida formed the National Association of Colored Women. The next year she attended a conference that would eventually lead in a few years to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 

Ida combined campaigning and motherhood for the next ten years. She gave birth to two daughters, one in 1901 and the other in 1904. 

By 1910 Ida was fully participating in public life again. She formed the Negro Fellowship League. This organization was housed in a building in Chicago. It served as a fellowship house for blacks that were new to the city. The Negro Fellowship League also conducted religious services. It became an employment office for blacks moving to the city and a shelter for the men until they could find a job.

Throughout the rest of her career Ida remained active in campaigning, writing, and activism. In 1909 she became one of the founders of the NAACP. In 1913 Ida established the first black women’s suffrage club, the Alpha Suffrage Club. Also in that year Ida met with president McKinley about a lynching in South Carolina. Later she would also meet with another president, Woodrow Wilson in an effort to get legislation passed that would end discriminatory practices in hiring. 

Other famous people that Ida knew and sympathized or even collaborated with included Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard (though Ida disagreed with Willard on methods), Jane Addams, and Irene McCoy Gaines. 

Ida worked tirelessly in many other areas. She created the first African American kindergarten in her town. From 1918 through the 1920’s Ida covered race riots in Arkansas, East St. Louis, and Chicago. Her reports were published in newspapers worldwide. 

Ida even threw her hat into the political ring. She ran for a seat in the Illinois state senate in 1930. She pledged to “work as hard for the benefit of my Race and my district as I have done for the past 37 years I have lived in Chicago.”  Ida lost to the incumbent, but she sent a strong message to the people of Illinois that with hard work, women, even black women, could accomplish much. Ida garnered 752 votes out of 8969 votes. That is really a good showing for an independent candidate. 

Though Ida was 68 years old by this time and beginning to have health issues, she looked forward to the future. The election defeat did not stop her. She did not look back. Ida had faith in the future. She remained active in politics and could take credit for helping to defeat an appointment of a judicial candidate for the United States Supreme Court. This man, nominated by President Hoover, was on record as saying he was anti-African-American. With her usual amount of energy Ida went to work. She and other organizations got up a petition against the appointment. The man was defeated.

Her successful campaign against Hoover’s candidate encouraged her to plan a new venture. She began to publish a periodical called the Chicago Review. At the same time she continued to work on her autobiography, begun in 1928 – Crusade for Justice. It would be the first full-length autobiography written by a black woman activist. Ida did not quite finish it before she died.

In March of 1931 Ida was to attend a book fair for African Americans. She was going to donate many of her own books written by black authors. This event would be her last.

On March 21 after returning home from shopping she went to bed saying she wasn’t feeling well. Several days later she had a high fever. Ferdinand and her daughter, Alfreda took Ida to the hospital. Ida “slipped away quietly” in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 25, 1931, four months before her sixty-ninth birthday. The cause of death was given as uremic poisoning.

The funeral service for Ida was befitting of this extraordinary woman. It was simple, direct, and straightforward. “No fanfare of trumpets, no undue shouting, no flowery oratory – just plain earnest, sincere words” were spoken for her. This was truly reflective of a great and wise woman who spoke plainly but effectively for justice. 

Truly, Ida B. Wells shows us what one woman can accomplish. Her faith and determination made a difference in this world for many people. Today, lynching may seem like a horrible thing of the past, but hatred is still with us. People still find ways to be unjust to others. We can learn from Ida B. Wells as we fight against all injustice.

Black men and women received more freedom sooner than they would have if it were not for the efforts of Ida B. Wells. Her life was a truly great example of how to meet problems with justice in an honest, forthright way with great strength. That is why her work has lasting power and is of interest to us today.

… Go on, thou brave woman leader,

    Spread our wrongs from shore unto shore;

Until clothed with his rights is the Negro,

    And lynchings are no more….

And the wise Afro-American mother,

    Who her children of heroine tells,

Shall speak in tones of gratitude,

    The name of Ida B. Wells!

                                                        Katherine Davis Tilllman

[1] In the nineteenth century other terms for black people were used that we consider not politically correct today. In the interest of authentic historiography, I will use the terms that Ida and other used in the nineteenth century including “colored” and “Negro”. Often I just insert African American anyway, but they would have said, “colored” or “Negro”.

[2] More in next week’s post.

[3] You can find a collection of her writings in: Ida B. Wells. The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2014) I also recommend Paula J. Giddings. IDA: A Sword Among Lions (New York, NY: Amistad, An Imprint of Harper Collings Publishers, 2008). 

Black Women in America – Part 28

For the past year we have been relating the stories of remarkable black women in America. We began during Black History Month in 2022 with the stories of African American women in the field of education. We recounted the stories of the first black women to earn PhD’s. They faced many obstacles to success, but all of these women were indomitable examples of what can be done by a woman who does not let her circumstances dictate to her. These women rose above many hardships including poverty, illness, prejudice, internal conflicts, and the limitations of their times to follow their call from God and affect the lives of many other people for good. Why were they able to live in a realm above their circumstances? It is because they all received strength from God. They all answered the call in their lives to help others.

There have been so many courageous female African Americans who sought for justice for their people. We will cover many of them in the months to come. We will continue with our theme of Black Female Firsts. 

This month, Black History Month 2023, we will focus on four women who broke the laws and/or social rules, albeit in a mostly peaceful fashion, to force the culture to deal with the problem of racial prejudice. 

Harriet Tubman, Moses to her people (1820-1913)

Ida B. Wells, Tireless Crusade against lynching (1862-1931)

Rosa Parks, Mother of the Civil Rights Movement(1913-2005)

Rev. Addie Wyatt- Justice for Everyone (1924-2012)

Harriet Tubman- A Moses to her People

Harriet Tubman

“I’ll meet you in de mornin’,
When you reach de promised land;
On de oder side of Jordan,
For I’m boun’ for de promised land.”

We do not know how even in our country, the land of the free, we could have allowed the evil of slavery to continue for so long. It is tragic, but we can look back with thankfulness for the people that God raised up to work in their own way to end the oppression.

One woman who did just that was Harriet Tubman, a woman who rescued three to four hundred slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, earning the title – a “Moses to her people”. Harriet did not blame God for any hard circumstances but instead she acknowledged that her difficult upbringing prepared her for the tasks ahead of her when she followed her calling to rescue slaves.

Born Araminta Ross around 1820 to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves, she later took her mother’s name, Harriet. She took her husband’s name when she married John Tubman.

Harriet was born in Maryland and had ten brothers and sisters. She was later able to rescue many family members and her parents, who retired in New York on property that Harriet purchased for them.

When Harriet was six years old she was sent to live with the James Cook family and learn the trade of weaving. Her mistress was cruel. James Cook sent her out to check muskrat traps, and so she had to wade in water. Already ill from measles she grew very sick and was eventually sent home.

When she was in her teens she worked as a field hand. While working for that farmer she received a wound to her head that would affect her for the rest of her life. The farm overseer was trying to punish a disobedient slave and threw a two-pound weight at him which fell short and hit Harriet, cracking her skull. It took her a long time to recover from this and for the rest of her life she was subject to sleeping spells. At times a sort of stupor would come over her even in the midst of a conversation and she would need to sleep. This would give the appearance of laziness or stupidity, but Harriet would show that she really had a fine mind and a courageous strength.

After this Harriet worked for John Stewart. She did many jobs usually given to men, such as cutting and hauling wood. Here she built up the incredible strength that would later allow her to do such things as carry grown men through the water to their safety.

Harriet married a free “colored” man named John Tubman around 1844. They had no children. (I would like to remind readers that I will respectfully refer to black people as black or African American in my posts where I can. However, when quoting historical sources, I must not change the words of those authors. In their day other words such as “Negro” or “colored” were used. Let us just note it and be glad that there have been changes made.)

In 1849, she and some other slaves were to be sold. She determined not to be sold and so one night she just walked away. Eventually she arrived in Philadelphia where a white woman befriended her and she got a job. She saved her money and two years after her own escape from slavery she went south to rescue her husband. She found him living with another woman and unwilling to take her back. This did not stop her from her plan of rescuing other family members. She just moved on trusting in the Lord.

Between 1852 and 1857 she made many journeys to the south rescuing many people. It was during this time that people began to call her “Moses”, a name she retained for the rest of her life. She rescued so many people that a reward was put out for her capture.

Let’s don’t forget that a Fugitive Slave Law had been passed, making it a crime for people to help slaves escape. Harriet had to find ways to get the rescued slaves all the way to Canada since even many Northerners would not help for fear of getting fined or arrested for breaking the law. Many Christians would say that Harriet should not have defied the government because of what it says in Romans 13 about obeying all those in authority over us (see Romans 13:1). But Peter and John disobeyed the leaders (Acts 4:19). Many Christians were thrown to the lions for disobeying Caesar. Slavery is evil and the Lord helped Harriet to rescue many people.

Harriet was able to discern the voice of the Lord speaking to her, warning her and giving her guidance. Because of this she was able to avoid capture many times. She said that she always knew when danger was near though she didn’t understand quite how exactly, but “pears like my heart go flutter, flutter,” and she would know that something bad was going to happen.

One example of this was a time when Harriet was going back north and she had a premonition that told her to turn aside and cross a stream. The stream was swollen in that place and she did not know how deep it was. She obeyed the whispered warning in her head and stepped in to cross the water. The men that were with her hung back, but when they saw that the water was only up to her chin, they followed her and all of them safely crossed the stream. Later they found out that there was a party waiting down the road to arrest her and if she hadn’t crossed the stream she would not have escaped.

Another time Harriet fell asleep in a park beneath a notice that was offering a reward for her capture! Of course, Harriet couldn’t read and had no idea of the irony until some friends found her and told her.

Because she was on the run, Harriet slept in wet swamps or in potato fields where she could lie hidden. Besides the obvious risk to her health there was always danger of being spotted. But the Lord always rescued her, sometimes through friends or by her own wits. And Harriet always gave the credit to God. When someone would express surprise at her boldness and daring she would reply, “Don’t I tell you, Missus, ’twasn’t me, ’twas de Lord!”

All through the War Between the States Harriet rescued slaves and nursed wounded soldiers. She was never paid for her efforts. Harriet remained poor for the rest of her life but she never complained.

Harriet died on March 10, 1913, in Auburn, New York at around the age of ninety-three!  All through her life she had depended on the Lord and God had never disappointed her trust in Him.

Harriet’s life made a difference to hundreds of black slaves and their families. She didn’t try and start a revolution; she just did what was right. Shamefully, the United States did not make righteous changes in the laws very quickly. The work is still going on. Harriet’s example of peaceful protest has been followed by many others, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who we just honored a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure many feel that change is not happening quickly enough; good lasting changes take time. I pray that they will continue.

So much has been written about Harriet Tubman in the last several years. There are several movies now and here is one which I recommend. I read a biography of Harriet Tubman and this movie is fairly close to actual events. 

A Woman Called Moses (2001), Starring Cicely Tyson

(Running time – 200 minutes)

(Distributed by Xenon Pictures, Inc., available at: Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Called-Moses-Jason-Bernard/dp/B0000560W6

This video is a wonderful presentation of Harriet Ross Tubman’s life. Slavery is cruel and evil and it is inconceivable how Christians let it go on for so long in our country before finally ending it. This story is indispensable for students of black history.

This older video is worth watching as Cicely Tyson’s performance was wonderful. I think she portrayed Harriet’s life accurately.  

Her faith was portrayed in the movie, but not as much as I would have liked to see. If you get the book, you will see that Harriet always gave the credit to God for her escapes. (The book is: Sarah Bradford. Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People (Applewood Books, 1993)) 

All through the War Between the States Harriet rescued slaves and nursed wounded soldiers. She was never paid for her efforts. Harriet remained poor for the rest of her life but she never complained. Harriet’s life is an example of what can be done, even in the most horrible of circumstances, when a person does not give up or give in. Harriet’s attitude in life made all the difference in the world. Her childlike faith and determination are an example for us all. 

Black Women in America – Part 27

It has been very enlightening for me to study about the black women in the entertainment industry. In the early twentieth century African American men and women were limited to roles featuring them in servant positions such as waiters or maids. Black women did not demand better roles until the 1960’s. Thanks to the courageous efforts of women like Oprah Winfrey, Diahann Carroll, and Gail Fisher the mostly while profession of television and movies began to accept black people. By the 1970’s things continued to improve for black women who desire to be on TV or in the movies.

This week we will feature two famous African American female actors –Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Dandridge. Both women were victims of racial abuse. You will probably be shocked at their treatment, and we can only be thankful that they persevered in spite of it. They loved acting and we are now the beneficiaries of some of the best movies ever made. They helped to make changes for racial justice.

Hattie McDaniel – Actor and a First Oscar (1893- 1952)

Hattie was born as the thirteenth child to Henry and Susan McDaniel on June 10, 1893. Her father was a civil war veteran and Susan was a domestic worker. In 1901 the McDaniel’s moved to Denver, Colorado. Hattie was one of only two black children at her elementary school. She was popular among her classmates in part due to her singing ability. 

Hattie decided to drop out of high school to focus on a career in singing and dancing. She had been starring in shows such as The Mighty Minstrels. She decided to work with her brother’s own troupe by 1909. In 1911 she married Howard Hickman and went on to organize an all-woman’s minstrel show.

For the next few years, Hattie worked in radio and on vaudeville. She wrote much of her own work. When there weren’t enough gigs, she managed to support herself taking jobs wherever she could. In 1929 she worked at Sam Pick’s Suburban Inn in Milwaukee as a vocalist. 

Around 1930, Hattie and her brother Sam and her sister Etta moved to Los Angeles. They did radio work and Sam and Etta obtained minor roles in movies. Hattie was very popular on her brother’s show at KNX, earning the nickname “HI Hat Hattie” for putting on formal dress for her first appearance on the program.

Hattie received her first small role as an extra in a Hollywood film in 1931. Then in 1932 she played the role of a housekeeper in The Golden West. As we have already seen in previous posts, roles for black women were hard to come by. Hattie did manage to get some bit parts here and there.

Then in 1934, Hattie got her big break. She starred in a major motion picture by a major director, John Ford, entitled Judge Priest. She sang a duet with Will Rogers. The next year she starred with Lionel Barrymore in one of my favorite Shirley Temple movies, The Little Colonel. Hollywood directors were enthralled with her performance and her she got the role of Queenie in the film, Showboat with Irene Dunne in 1936. (Hattie had already starred in the stage production of Showboat.)

The highlight of Hattie’s career came when she starred as Mammy in the Academy Award Winning Gone With the Wind. In 1940 Hattie became the first black female to win an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. Sad to say, all of the black actors would be barred from attending the Premiere at Loew’s Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia in 1939. As we have seen in this series of posts, Hattie was not the only African American in Hollywood to be denied honor for her work.[1] A controversy swirled around Hattie with some praising her and some condemning her for furthering a demeaning image for African Americans. 

Hattie was even attacked by the black media for starring in a role that played into the prejudice against African Americans by stereotyping them as servants to white people. Hattie replied that she could choose any roles she wanted. She also pointed out how strong a character Mammy was in the movie. Hattie felt that it was still a step in the right direction. In her role as Mammy she went beyond servitude toward “sly humor”. She acted like the perfect servant but put her employers in their place. It seems that people appreciated the feisty Mammy! But Hattie would go on to work toward more equitable roles for African Americans.

Later Major studio heads, Walter White of the NAACP, and Wendell Willkie struck up an agreement that there would be better roles for black actors in Hollywood, roles portraying them as normal people in everyday life. They would try to end the stereotyping. Organized African American groups began to give their own awards for movies based on the new standards of justice. 

Hattie helped with the WWII effort in the 1940’s. She promoted bond sales and entertained the troops. She did not receive any more roles in the movies, so after the war she returned to radio. She starred in CBS radio The Beulah Show from 1947. In 1951 she had just started filming the television version of Beulah, when she suffered from a heart attack. Then she was diagnosed with cancer, ending her entertainment career. She bravely fought the cancer but succumbed on October 26, 1952. 

After her death, Hattie was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975. The US Post Office has commemorated her with a stamp introduced in 2006. Writer Jill Watts published a biography of her life – Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood – in 2005. 

Hattie’s legacy includes her wonderful movies, radio shows, and her stance for justice for African American actors. She was a pivotal point for better treatment of black actors in Hollywood. She is surely among the most remembered actors in Hollywood! 

Dorothy Dandridge – Nominated for Oscar, Best Actress (1922-1965)

Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American female actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. This was for her starring role in the 1954 musical production of Carmen Jones. Dorothy won acclaim for her acting and appeared on Life Magazine in recognition of her Academy Award for Best Actress (1954).

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 9, 1922. Her mother Ruby left her husband while she was pregnant with Dorothy, so Dorothy never knew her father. Ruby was an actress and later pushed Dorothy and her sister Vivian into show business as a sister act called the Wonder Children. The girls traveled around singing at churches and other places.

Around 1930 the family moved to Los Angeles. A few years later she started a singing group, The Dandridge Sisters, with her sister and a friend Etta Jones. Dorothy later began appearing in small roles in movies, including the popular Marx Brothers classic A Day at the Races (1937) and Going Places (1938) with Louis Armstrong. She had a dancing role in the 1941 Sonja Henie musical Sun Valley Serenade. What is appalling to us today but was seen as perfectly acceptable in the 1940’s, Dorothy’s tap-dancing routine in the movie with Harold Nicholas was cut from the film version that was played in the South.

Dorothy and Harold were married in 1942. Sadly, she had a daughter who had brain damage. Dorothy sought a cure and, in the meantime, paid for expensive care for her daughter. That was not the only tragic part of her marriage. Harold was a womanizer and Dorothy eventually divorced him in 1951.

A later incident in Dorothy’s life illustrates just how bigoted white people were at the time. I will let author Nii Ntreh explain from his article – “How a Las Vegas hotel drained their pool because Dorothy Dandridge dipped her toe into it”:[2] Ntreh’s article is a good summary of the problem of racial injustice in society at that time. 

“These days, Hollywood is often credited with being at the forefront of social change and progress, although that assertion can adequately be refuted. The showbiz industry is very much a consequence of what is considered acceptable politics at any given time. However, whatever Hollywood was at Dandridge’s time is comparably worse than what Hollywood is now.

For her first four films, Dandridge was uncredited, partly due to the minor role she played and mostly due to her skin color. It was not until her role in the 1940 film Four Shall Die that Dandridge was credited. She was 18 years old at the time but she was a minor celebrity of a sort, due to shows played by The Dandridge Sisters. It also turned out that although she was uncredited in the films, she had not gone unnoticed by the theater-going public.

It also did turn out that fame was not nearly enough to spare Dandridge the ugliness of her America. As she made it into the 1950s even as a more appreciated actress, Dandridge was reportedly invited to Las Vegas to perform. She had not been the first. Trailblazers including Nat King Cole and Lena Horne were all recipients of such invitations which were considered an honor and a chance for a good payday.

But all the Black entertainers who went to Las Vegas at the time also realized that Sin City was not accepting of certain sins, including giving equal treatment to white and Black people. Las Vegas segregated or simply kept out Black people from many establishments even if said Black people were the headline acts on nights. You could fill a room with thousands of paying patrons at a hotel and still not be allowed to eat at that hotel’s dining area.

When Dandridge stayed at one of those casino hotels where she was billed to perform, she was told the swimming pool was out of bounds for Black guests. Dandridge is said to have been enraged by the hotel’s rules so much so that she actually moved to break them, somewhat.

She showed up at the pool in her bathing suit as the all-white swimming crowd gazed. Then Dandridge just stuck her toe into the water. The hotel’s management then proceeded to drain all of the water from the pool as a result of Dandrige’s rebellious toe-dipping.”

Later, a film about Dorothy Dandridge starring Halle Berry was made entitled, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge(1999). The incident of the pool is dramatized as it really happened when Dorothy was there. You see Halle Berry as Dorothy walk past the pool at night watching black workers scrubbing away her supposed contamination.

Dorothy complained to her friend Harry Belafonte who also suffered from prejudice that if she had been white, she would have obtained many more leading roles. Dorothy appeared in one more major film, Academy Award winning Porgy and Bess (1959) opposite Sidney Poitier.  She was offered a role in The King and I (1956) but she refused to play the part of an enslaved person.

Sadly, after this Dorothy’s life took a downturn. She had several affairs; one of them was a highly abusive relationship. She began drinking heavily and taking antidepressants. She tried to resume a career but failed. She could no longer pay for her daughter’s care and put her in an institution. I can’t help but wonder if she hadn’t lived just a few years later, she wouldn’t have received more movie roles and not experienced such poverty and despair. In our story on Hattie McDaniel we saw that in the next decade things would begin to change. But it was too late for Dorothy Dandridge.

Dorothy was found dead in her home on September 8, 1965. It was reported as an embolism, gut later was found to be an overdose of antidepressants. She had a little over $2 in her bank account at the time. How tragic that her life was cut short. She was only 42 years old, and Hollywood was just around the corner from making changes. Dorothy did leave a legacy of some wonderful films. I have watched many of these classic movies many times.


Watching Hollywood movies made then (1930’s and 1940’s) and now we can witness the gradual changes that have been made for black actors. This is very important because the American people take many cues about black people from what they see on the screen. We are thankful many strides toward justice for African Americans have been made and I believe that changes at movie studios helped. The problem with prejudice is in ourselves and how we view others. My prayer is that in all areas of society people will change their unjust, unreasonable prejudicial views. I dream of a day when all people, black and white, male and female, rich and poor, and young and old will live in peace and harmony with each other.

[1] See for example “Black Women Artists” https://mylordkatie.wordpress.com/2022/05/09/black-women-in-america-part-9/  And see story below on Dorothy Dandridge.

[2] I couldn’t find a better example of how things were in Hollywood in the early days of film making. Nor could I tell the story as well as Nii Ntreh“How a Las Vegas hotel drained their pool because Dorothy Dandridge dipped her toe into it” March 08, 2021. https://face2faceafrica.com/article/how-a-las-vegas-hotel-drained-their-pool-because-dorothy-dandridge-dipped-her-toe-into-it


Black Women in America – Part 24

Here we are nearly at the end of one year of stories of amazing African American women. We started last year during Black History Month with the stories of the FIRST African American women to earn PhD’s and/or attain to leadership positions in education. From there we discovered black women in arts, writing, sports, medicine, inventing, and entertainment. There are so many more FIRST African American women in politics, law, awards and achievements, crime fighters, firefighters, pilots, astronauts, motorbike riders, missionaries, religious leaders, business, and activists that we will spend another year recognizing them. 

This week we continue with black women in entertainment.

Misty Copeland – (b. 1982) – First in Ballet 

“I’m 5’2”. I started when I was thirteen. I’m Black, but I’ve made it happen. I’m very lucky to be where I am…it’s possible.”[1]

Misty was born to Douglas Copeland and Sylvia DelaCerna on September 10, 1982. Her parents divorced while she was just a toddler. Her mother worked hard to give Misty and her five siblings a good upbringing. When Sylvia saw how much Misty loved to dance, she supported her as much as she could. She saw that Misty took lessons at the Boys & Girls Club at her hometown of Kansas City, MO.

Many ballerinas start while they are very young, but Misty did not take ballerina lessons until she was thirteen. Her coach Elizabeth Cantine saw Misty’s obvious giftedness and that she had the internal drive to succeed. It must have been hard for mother and daughter who loved each other very much, but Misty had to live apart from her family for three years while she took intensive training. Her guardian and manager was Cynthia Bradley. 

When she was fifteen, Misty won first place at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards. The Los Angeles Times wrote that Misty was the best young dancer in the Los Angeles area. Later at age seventeen she moved to New York and became a member of the American Ballet Theatre. Misty was given great honors for her solo role in ABT’s production of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird.

Misty continued to thrill audiences for many years. In 2012 she fractured her tibia. This might have ended her career, but Misty worked hard on her strength training and soon was dancing again. In 2014 Misty was the First black woman to play the role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.  In 2015 Misty became the First African American to be named the principal ballet performer for the American Ballet Theatre. 

Misty had many other exciting opportunities – dancing with Prince, acting on Broadway, appearing with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and interviewing with President Obama. She also wrote several books. PBS produced a film about her life entitled, A Ballerina’s Tale.[2]

Misty still dances with the American Ballet Theatre. In July 2022, Misty and her husband, Olu Evans (married since 2016) had their first baby – a boy named Jackson.

Ruby Dee, Firsts in Theatre (1922-2014)

“The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.”[3]

Ruby wanted to be an actor from a very early age. In the early twentieth century it was hard for African Americans to get really good roles, so Ruby joined a group known as the American Negro Theatre (ANT).[4]This group contained some people who would later go on the great fame – Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Ossie Davis. Because of racial prejudice, they had to rehearse in the basement of a library building in Harlem. Ruby starred in their first production, On Striver’s Row. This was the first of many starring roles that spanned her career of over seventy years.

Some of her movies include:

Edge of the City with Sidney Poitier
A Raisin in the Sun, based on the play by Lorraine Hansberry.

Television movies include:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, based on Maya Angelou’s memoir
Roots: The Next Generation

Ruby was the First black female actor to appear on a TV soap opera, Peyton Place. Ruby was also the Firstfemale African American to play major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival.

A Raisin in the Sun (Ethel Barrymore, Belasco Theatres, 1959-60) Written by Lorraine Hansberry, Directed by Lloyd Richards Shown: Ruby Dee (as Ruth Younger), Ossie Davis (as Walter Lee Younger)

Ruby and Ossie Davis were married in 1948. The couple would star in many movies together. They also became active in civil rights organizations across the United States. They were seen working together on and off screen earning them a reputation as “the first couple of Black Theatre”. They were friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and took part in the famous March on Washington in 1963. Ruby and Ossie were members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).[5] They were also members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Congress of Racial Equality.

In 1995 Ruby and Ossie were awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 2008, Ruby received the NAACP’s highest award – the Spingarn Medal for acting, screen writing, and social justice work. Ruby had also won a Grammy, an Emmy, an Obie and she received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Many still remember her today as one of the most significant and accomplished actors and activists in America.

Evelyn Preer – First Lady of the Screen (1896-1932) 

 In the early 20th century, Evelyn Preer became the First black female actor to achieve celebrity status, nicknamed the “First Lady of the Screen.” Evelyn acted on stage and screen. She showed her great talent when she crossed from early silent movies to sound movies, and also performed on Broadway, acting and singing.

Evelyn Preer was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi to Frank and Blanche Jarvis. She was the oldest of three children. Her father died while she was a child. Her mother moved the family to Chicago. Evelyn received her acting training on Vaudeville. She also gained some experience being in front of an audience while she was street-preaching. She was helping her mother raise funds to build a black Apostolic church.

Evelyn began her professional career in 1918. She worked with Oscar Micheaux, the first black producer of films. She starred in “The Homesteader”, Micheaux’s first film. She went on to star in nine more Micheaux films. 

In 1920, Evelyn joined Anita Bush’s theatrical troupe – The Lafayette Players. Evelyn starred in Broadway shows as a singer and an actor. 1923 –She played the role of Salome in “Salome” on Broadway.

She made records with such famous musicians as Duke Ellington. She appeared in comedy shorts for producer Al Christie. Her early movies were “Silent” films; her first “Talkie” sound movie was a musical entitled “Georgia Rose” in 1930.

Sadly, her career was cut short when she died on double pneumonia in 1932. She had been suffering from post-partum complications after the birth of the daughter, Edeve. 

Edeve would later join the Sisters of Saint Francis, taking the veil and becoming Sister M. Francesca Thompson, O.S.F. Edeve would also go on to become an Associate Professor of theater and speech at Marian College in Indianapolis. Edeve is recognized as a well-known historian of African American cinema. 

I am thankful that we can find some pictures of Evelyn on YouTube. 

The one below: Evelyn Preer in scenes from the 1920 film “Within Our Gates”. She was the first black leading lady in Hollywood. Continue to watch the YouTube features which follow. For a Sound movie see the second link below. It is “The Melancholy Dame”. 

[1] (Cheryl Willis Hudson. Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World. (Crown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2020) p. 60.

[2] You can find it on Amazon and at https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/documentaries/ballerinas-tale/

[3] (Cheryl Willis Hudson. Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World. (Crown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2020) p. 81.

[4] The terms “Negro” and “Colored” were in use at the time. 

[5] The organization did not change its name even though we don’t use “colored” anymore for African Americans.

A Blessed New Year to All!

In February 2022, we began a series on Black Women in America. I had been wanting to do a series on black women for a long time. I was hoping to do the journey in one year, but there are so many wonderful women who have made great contributions to society that I could go on for five years at least!!! So, I decided to concentrate on Black Female Firsts in all areas of life. 

We began in February with the stories of black women firsts in education – both those who received PhD’s and educators. We moved on to writers, artists, scientists, inventors, and women in medicine. Next, we covered only a few of the many talented black women in sports- both winter and summer sports. After that we covered the stories of black women in entertainment – television and music. We learned that in television up until the 1960’s black men and women were mostly portrayed in servant roles. Thanks to courageous actors who insisted on normal roles, that began to change.

During the holiday season we looked at Christmas music written and performed by black artists. I learned that Kwanzaa is a special celebration of African American culture that is observed starting right after Christmas. 

Now we are in a new year. I hope to continue with our stories of Black Women Firsts in America. We will continue with black women in entertainment in the movies and on stage. In February – Black History Month – we will cover the stories of activists. Many women sacrificed to raise the bar for African Americans. Then we will continue – probably for another year!! –  on black women in many other fields including politics, law, business, religion, flying and space, awards, and other interesting occupations like police and firefighters.

I think you will agree that black women are among the most faithful, creative, intelligent, successful, and steadfast followers of Christ in the world.

I pray that you will have a very blessed New Year. May we be a part of making life better this year for all people!