In honor of Women’s History Month we are paying homage to a few unsung heroines of philanthropy. These great leaders gave their time, talent and treasure to make the world a better place.
“Because our children had had the privilege of growing up where they’d raised a lot of food. They were never hungry. They could share their food with people. And so, you share your lives with people.” Ella Baker
Ella Baker aka “Fundi” was an activist and civil rights activist. Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, Baker moved to New York City. Baker began her involvement with the NAACP in 1940. She worked as a field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until 1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded the organization In Friendship to raise money to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South. In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
On February 1, 1960, a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, where they had been denied service. Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to assist the new student activists because she viewed young, emerging activists as a resource and an asset to the movement. Baker organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — was born. via Ella Baker Biography
“Freedom has always been lost by a people who allowed their rights to be gradually whittled away.” Septima P. Clark
Septima Poinsette Clark was an educator and civil rights activist born in South Carolina. She was fired from teaching in Charleston in 1947 because she was a member of the NAACP. Unable to find work Clark relocated to Monteagle, TN, teaching interracial adult education at the Highlander Folk School, where she formed an adult literacy program with another woman, teaching people how to fill out drivers’ license and voter registration forms, and how to sign checks. When she became director Clark devised a curriculum that focused on promoting voter registration and empowering people to solve their issues through social activism. One of her students was Rosa Parks, who helped start the Montgomery Bus boycott.
She then founded “Citizenship School,” created successfully on John’s Island in 1957. With links to Highlander Folk School constantly being disrupted by the Tennessee legislature and finally resulting in the revocation of its charter, in 1961 the citizenship program was transferred to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLS). By 1970, over 800 citizenship schools, graduated over 100,00 African-Americans. They in turn served as an essential grass-roots base for the civil rights movement throughout the Deep South.
Her autobiography, “Echo in My Soul,” was published in 1962. She was keynote speaker at the first convention of the National Organization of Women (NOW), speaking on “The Need of Women Challenging Male Dominance.” via AARegistry
“If you want to be proud of yourself, you have got to do things you can be proud of.” Oseola McCarty
Oseola McCarty was born in Mississippi in 1908. She spent her life taking care of ill family members and working as a laundress, but she was an excellent stewart of her money. She gave away $150,000 of her life savings for student scholarships at the University of Southern Mississippi, the largest ever by an African-American.
Soon after the school announced the bequest, more than 600 people contributed a total of $330,000 so the college could immediately start awarding McCarty grants. Since then, with the help of funds from McCarty’s estate and through prudent investments, the endowment has grown to nearly $700,000. This year, the university awarded four of the scholarships. The only stipulation from McCarty was that the money go to African-American students from southern Mississippi who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend college. via WSJ
“An oppressed but brave people, whose pride and dignity rose to the occasion, conquered fear, and faced whatever perils had to be confronted. The boycott was the most beautiful memory that all of us who participated will carry to our final resting place.” JoAnn Robinson
JoAnn Gibson was born near Culloden, Georgia, on April 17, 1912. She was a professor of English at Alabama State throughout the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
In Montgomery she joined both the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and the Women’s Political Council (WPC). At Christmastime in 1949, Robinson endured a deeply humiliating experience at the hands of an abusive and racist Montgomery City Lines bus driver, and she resolved then and there that the WPC would target racial seating practices on Montgomery buses. Many other Black citizens had similar experiences, and for the next several years the WPC repeatedly asked city authorities to improve racial seating practices and address the conduct of abusive bus drivers. In May 1954, more than eighteen months before the arrest of Rosa Parks but just several days after news of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision began to sweep the country, Robinson wrote to Montgomery’s mayor as WPC president, gently threatening a Black boycott of city buses if abuses were not curtailed.
Following Rosa Parks’s arrest in December 1955, Robinson played a central role in beginning the protest by immediately producing the leaflets that spread word of the hoped-for boycott among the Black citizens of Montgomery. She became one of the most active board members of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the new Black community group created to lead the boycott, but she remained out of the limelight in order to protect her teaching position at Alabama State as well as those of her colleagues. In 1960, Robinson left Alabama State (and Montgomery), as did other activist faculty members. via The Papers of MLK, Jr.
Who are some unsung heroines who you pay homage to?