On her 90th birthday, 1953
From out the South of tyranny and blight
She came, a potent pilgrim with a dauntless tread
To Oberlin, where wisdom’s rays are shed
To gather lore of truth and love and light
From granaries supreme and infinite.
Then straightaway to a hostile world she sped
Unhesitant, unyielding, unafraid,
To fight for justice and for human right.
Custom was holding sable men at bay,
The mighty rules, and arrogance in sway
Issued this fiat to the darker race:
“You may not enter any hallowed place!”
But she with her crusading, valiant band
Shattered the bars that shamed our native land.
Reprinted with permission: Evans-Tibbs Collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Thurlow Tibbs, Jr. Estate.
One of the first African American women to earn a college degree, Mary Church Terrell (September 23, 1863 – July 24, 1954) is best known as an activist working for civil rights and women’s rights. She is author of a memoir, A Colored Woman in a White World (1940). Terrell’s journalism was published widely in both the white and black press, in such publications as the Afro-American, New York Age, Washington Tribune, Washington Evening Star, and the Washington Post. Terrell served on the DC Board of Education from 1895 to 1906, the first African American woman in the nation to hold such a position. She was president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and co-founded the National Association of College Women. In 1909, she became a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was an organizer for the women’s suffrage movement after World War I, and, near the end of her life, led the fight to integrate restaurants in DC in 1950, referred to in this poem.
Georgia Douglas Johnson (September 10, 1880? - May 14, 1966) was one of the best-published women writers of the Harlem Renaissance era. She published four books of poems: The Heart of a Woman (1918), Bronze (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and Share My World (1962). In addition, she wrote plays, song lyrics, and journalism. She worked for the DC Public Schools and the US Department of Labor, and her newspaper column, "Homely Philosophy," was syndicated to twenty newspapers between 1926 and 1932. After her husband's death in 1925, she raised two sons on her own. A gifted organizer, a generous friend, a mentor to many, Johnson hosted weekly salons in her home at 1461 S Street NW in DC from 1921 to approximately 1928; she continued hosting gatherings more sporadically through the Great Depression and into the early 1940s. To read more about Georgia Douglas Johnson: Valerie Jean on Georgia Douglas Johnson: Memorial Issue