Published on the Black Star News on 22nd March 2021
Mary Church Terrell was an educator, activist and the co-founder and first President of the National Association of Colored Women.
She was born in 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her parents were Robert Reed Church and Louisa Ayres Church, who were born slaves. Her mother went on to run a successful hair salon and her father became the first Black Millionaire in the South. Her parents separated when she was a child and her father remarried. As a result, Terrell moved to Ohio and attended elementary school at Antioch College laboratory school. She went on to attend Oberlin Academy and College, graduating in 1884 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Classical Languages.
She worked as a teacher at Wilberforce College in Ohio. In 1887 she relocated to Washington and taught at M Street Colored High School, where she met her husband, Robert Heberton Terrell. Because married women were not allowed to work at this time, she had to resign in 1891 when she got married.
In 1892, a close friend of Terrell’s, Thomas Moss, was lynched by a white mob in Memphis, Tennessee. Terrell and Frederick Douglas petitioned President Benjamin Harris to publicly condemn this injustice, which he did nothing about. In response, Terrell formed the Colored Women’s League to address issues affecting black communities in Washington. A few years later, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Women and became the first President of the organization.