Mary Church Terrell: Race Relations in International Perspective

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton)
Alison M. Parker, Emory University
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) is best known as a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and for her advocacy for the rights of African Americans in the domestic context. This paper focuses on her important but understudied activism and political thought from the World War I era through the first decade of the Cold War, when she broadened her perspective on the connections between civil rights at home to international events and U.S. foreign policy. In concert with other prominent civil rights activists, such as W.E.B. Du Bois and A. Philip Randolph, Terrell highlighted the hypocrisy of the U.S. government’s strong advocacy of the principles of democracy, equality and human rights in the international arena while it ignored or condoned the harsh reality and compromised citizenship status of black Americans in the United States. In articles and speeches, as well as when she served as a delegate at international conferences, Terrell used her knowledge of international events and U.S. foreign relations to advocate for full citizenship rights for African Americans and equality for all members of what she and other civil rights activists termed “the darker races” of the world. As part of this global community of “women of darker races,” Terrell joined a host of African Americans whose international perspectives on human rights, equality, and full citizenship broadened the scope of the civil rights movement. By the Cold War era, they forced the U.S. government to take civil rights more seriously as having international, foreign policy ramifications. Terrell’s international experiences and perspectives allowed her to approach the fight for civil rights as a broader, linked struggle for all women and people of color around the world.
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