Mary Church Terrell, Early Rights Leader 1920 ca

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Mary Church Terrell, Early Rights Leader 1920 ca
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Mary Church Terrell in an undated photograph by Addison Scurlock circa 1920.

She was born Mary Church and married Robert Terrell. She was one of the first college educated black women and graduated from Oberlin College. She was appointed to the District of Columbia school board in 1895 and was the first black woman in the United States to hold such a position.

Terrell was the first president of the National Association of Colored Women and a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was an active women’s suffrage advocate and a leader of the fight against lynching.

Terrell was one of the women who organized the 1922 anti-lynching march on Washington.

Generally noted for her achievements in this early period, she led the campaign to desegregate Washington, DC’s restaurants by entering Thompson’s restaurant and filing a lawsuit when she was refused service. She continued the campaign by leading picketing, boycotts and a court challenge to enforce a Reconstruction-era law outlawing segregation in public accommodations.

Terrell lived to dine in the Thompson’s restaurant in 1953 after the courts upheld the old District law prohibiting segregation. She was a free speech advocate in the late 1940s and early 1950s during the onset of the McCarthy era.

Terrell died on July 24, 1954, months after the Supreme Court decisions that overturned segregation of District of Columbia schools and those across the nation.

For an article on the 1922 anti-lynching march on Washington, see…

For additional images related to the anti-lynching campaign, see

Photo by Addison Scurlock, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History

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