Educator, Writer, Activist Mary Church Terrell. Born in Memphis, TN to wealthy parents who were former slaves (her father, Robert Reed Church, was the South’s first black millionaire), Ms. Church Terrell earned bachelor’s (1884) and master’s (1888) degrees from Oberlin College. She also studied in Europe for several years and was fluent in German, Spanish and French. Her language fluency came in handy in 1904 when she was invited to speak at the International Congress of Women in Berlin, Germany. The only black woman in attendance, she delivered her speech in German, French and English.
Ms. Church Terrell was a founder and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (Charlotte Hawkins Brown was a vice president). Adapting the motto “Lifting As We Climb,” the organization was formed, in part, in response to an attack on the character and respectability of African American women by an influential journalist who referred to them as “thieves and prostitutes”.
Ms. Church Terrell died in 1954, at the age of 90, not long after leading the fight to desegregate restaurants in Washington, D.C.