Get to Know 3 Founding Female Members of the NAACP
On February 12, 1909, a group of white liberals and African-American leaders gathered together to discuss a movement for racial justice, partly in response to horrific lynching practices and race riots.
Both men and women were seated at the discussion table creating what would become the nation's oldest, largest, and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Today, it boasts more than half a million members and supporters throughout the U.S. and the world, who are committed to ending racial injustice.
Here are three of the earliest founding members of the NAACP, including two of the only black women. Get to know their stories below.
1. Ida B. Wells
Wells was born in 1862 in Holly Springs, Miss., and held prominent roles as an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. One of her most formative experiences in racial injustice happened while she was riding the railroad. Wells confronted the train conductor after he ordered her to sit in the black section under the racist Jim Crow laws.
She had purchased a first-class ticket and refused to comply. The conductor responded by attempting to remove her from the train but it was reported that she "fastened her teeth on the back of his hand." Wells was eventually forced off the train and she sued, winning her case in a lower court. However, the decision was reversed in an appeals court.
She died on March 25, 1931, in Chicago., Ill.
2. Mary Church Terrell
Terrell was born in 1863 in Memphis and was one of the first African-American woman to earn a college degree and the first African-American woman elected to the DC Board of Education in 1895. She was also one of the two women of color (Ida Wells-Barnett was the other) to attend the first meeting of the NAACP in 1909.
Terrell was a fierce advocate for equality through social and educational reform. In 1898, Terrell commented on the intersection of race and gender and how it negatively impacts black women. She wrote African-American women "with ambition and aspiration [are] handicapped on account of their sex, but they are everywhere baffled and mocked on account of their race."
She became an educator, political activist, and also the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and died on July 24, 1954, in Annapolis, Md.
3. Mary White Ovington
Ovington was born in 1865 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was a suffragette, socialist, unitarian, journalist, and a co-founder of the NAACP. Her parents were advocates for women's rights and the abolition movement. Ovington became involved in the civil rights movement in 1890 after hearing Frederick Douglass speak in a Brooklyn church. She later went on to study employment and housing problems in black Manhattan and became influenced by the idea that racial problems were as much a matter of class as of race.
Ovington was appointed as the NAACP's executive secretary after its founding and went on to serve for decades at the organization as a secretary, chairman, and board member. She died on July 15, 1951, in Newton Highlands, Mass.
We celebrate these trailblazing women today as we mark the anniversary of the NAACP's founding. We hope these women continue to inspire social change for the betterment of society.
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