Black History Month: 7 notable African American political activists who predate MLK Jr.

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Eliza Church Terrell (1863-1954)
Mary Eliza Church Terrell (1863-1954) | Public Domain

A writer and educator, Mary Church Terrell helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was the first African American woman to be appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education.

Terrell was among the first African American women in the U.S. to earn a college degree, according to the VCU Social Welfare History Project, earning a bachelor's in the Classics from Oberlin College in 1884 and a master's degree in 1888.

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"She was an active writer with numerous black and foreign newspapers and occasionally The Washington Post, less accepting of her race-related topics," noted the project.

"In 1940, Terrell released her autobiography, entitled A Colored Woman in a White World, and in her later years, she helped organize desegregation activities in Washington, D.C."

Born a few months after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Terrell died in September 1954, living just long enough to see the U.S. Supreme Court strike down institutional segregation in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

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