Mary Church Terrell


Mary Church Terrell


The end of legal slavery didn’t make a dent in white Americans’ racism. The opposite, really: after the Civil War Northern whites patted themselves on the back for being so virtuous, then turned around and passed laws making it harder for African-Americans to vote, live, work. 🧵

As the century turned, Black women’s clubs were growing rapidly across the country. Meanwhile the Natl American Woman Suffrage Assoc had effectively become a whites-only organization. Still, leading African-Americans came to NAWSA conventions seeking help in fighting segregation.

In 1898, Mary Church Terrell addressed the NAWSA convention in Washington, DC. Terrell was the president of the National Association of Colored Women, and prominent in DC Black society. Her roots went back to Holly Springs, Miss. - coincidentally, the same town as Ida B Wells.

Terrell’s father was one of the first Black millionaires in the South. She had advantages Wells could only dream of, including a degree from @oberlincollege. Terrell supported Booker T Washington’s ingratiating approach to Black survival, which her speech to NAWSA reflected.

Rather than demanding equality based on human rights or the Constitution, Terrell described Black women’s educational attainment and industry. She closed with her signature phrase, the motto of NACW: “lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving.and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long.”

She was greeted politely, but her speech is given scant mention in the conference proceedings (which often excerpted notable speeches at length).

(FWIW, two years later she spoke again, and her more universalist speech about the importance of the vote for all women got more attention in the NAWSA record.) Remember, Terrell lived in DC, where NAWSA conferences took place in even numbered years. In between, @ the 1899 convention in Grand Rapids, an African-American delegate named Lottie Wilson Jackson pushed NAWSA to condemn railroad segregation. After heated debate, NAWSA took the position that woman suffrage and African-American rights were completely separate causes. #Suffrage100


Daily Suffragist






Daily Suffragist, “Mary Church Terrell,” Daily Suffragist, accessed October 6, 2022,

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