Black History Profile: Mary Church Terrell

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Terrell was a suffragist and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women and—at the suggestion of W.E.B. Du Bois—a charter member of the NAACP. In her late years, Terrell’s commitment to taking on Jim Crow laws and pioneering new ground didn’t wane. In 1949 she became the first African American admitted to the Washington chapter of the American Association of University Women. And it was Terrell who helped bring down segregated restaurants in her adopted home of Washington, D.C. After being refused service by a whites-only restaurant in 1950, Terrell and several other activists sued the establishment, laying the groundwork for the eventual court order that ruled that all segregated restaurants in the city were unconstitutional. Toward the end of a life that witnessed fantastic civil-rights changes, Terrell saw the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, which ended segregation in schools. Just two months later, Terrell died on July 24 in Annapolis, Maryland.

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