Mary Church Terrell was born in 1863, during the Civil War, and died in 1954, after the historic Supreme Court decision Brown versus Board of Education
--culmination of the fight to end Jim Crow segregation.
Terrell had been a leader in this fight throughout her long life. Born to wealth, Terrell majored in classics at Oberlin College, where she received her bachelor's degree in 1884, one of the first African-American women awarded a college degree. She studied in Europe for two years, becoming fluent in French, German, and Italian.
A high school teacher and principal, Terrell was appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education, the first black woman in the United States to hold such a position.
In climbing up from generations in chattel slavery, women of color, led by Mary Terrell, gathered in the basement of 19th Street Baptist Church on Jul 21, 1896. The purpose was to devise a strategy and plan for the mission challenge to evangelize offspring (generation #63, CE 1870-1899) of millions of ignorant ex-slaves not long out of chattel slavery.
It seemed clear that children could not be saved for citizenship or Christ without embracing their mothers to know and cooperate with one another. Believe it or not, one of the fundamental tasks was to get uneducated, unenlightened, poorly dressed, unsophisticated mothers to meet in accordance with Roberts Rules of Order --- and be civil and peaceful with one another, without complaining, swearing and envy.
A secondary mission was to encourage young women to view themselves as the home-mission arm of the churches of their choice. In the those days, among the enlightened and educated, churches on the east coast of America were community owned, and were as much places of education for mothers and youth, --- as they were for funerals and worship on Sunday.
Educated women, heeding the advice of Booker T. Washington, realized the need and benefits of women’s clubs to help enlighten and foster mission-minded mothers and their offspring youth, like Duke Ellington.
A charter member and first president of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell became nationally known both for her support of women's suffrage and her opposition to racial segregation. She was also one of the founders of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People.
In 1953, at the age of ninety, she led a successful drive to end the segregation of public facilities in Washington, D.C. By the year 1960, there were over 200,000 neighborhood based colored women’s clubs in America. Rosa Parks and every other African-American woman of any consequence belonged to a club; and more than any other group they financed King’s Southern Christian Leadership Movement.
So, what happened to the women’s clubs in the 1960s and 1970s? How and why did their numbers dwindle to less than ten thousand? Did they invoke the wrath and envy of Hooverism and Pentacostalism. The answers and issues are very complex. Indeed, the best and brightest among the least of us born in generations #65 (CE 1930-1959) were waved into the grace of the greatest nation on earth.
But, the unready were ignored and left outside the doors of opportunity for all. How many were fallen and could not get up, ---- who knows for sure? What we do think we know is that generation #67 (CE 1990 to-date) among "the least of us" were not prepared for, expected or even known until it was too late. The African-American beneficiary generation #66 (CE 1960-1989) of Dr. King’s dream and legacy, it is as though people of means that matter most in America (education & enlightenment) have ignored past history.
And that is the real issue about faith and functions among African-Americans. If not you, who will go into hearts and minds of "the least of us?" What does an educated and enlightened mother say to an uneducated and unenlightened teenage mother impoverished in body and spirit? Who is going to introduce you, and why?
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