Mary Church Terrell: 1863-1954
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) broke barrier after barrier in her long campaign for civil rights.

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, a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and helped organize Delta Sigma Theta.

She was an active women’s suffrage advocate and a leader of the fight against lynching.

She also was a leader of the Committee for Equal Justice that campaigned to bring charges against the white men who raped an African American woman, Recy Taylor, in Alabama in 1944.

While many turned their heads away, she stood up for civil liberties during the late 1940s and early 1950s when Americans were jailed for their political beliefs in communism or socialism.

Generally noted for her achievements in the early period of her life, she led the campaign to desegregate Washington, DC’s restaurants in the early 1950s.

Terrell entered Thompson’s restaurant along with several others and filing a lawsuit when she was refused service. She allied herself with the left-leaning predominantly African American Cafeteria Workers Union Local 471 and led picketing of Thompson’s and other restaurants and theaters until they desegregated.

She lived to see the courts overturn segregation in the District of Columbia in a number of rulings in the early 1950s.
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