Mary Church Terrell

Colored College Women in Politics - 1925

Mary Church Terrell
January 01, 1925
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Colored College Women in Politics.


All women should be interested in the political affairs of the country in which they live. So far as in them lies all women should inform themselves, not only about conditions in their own country, but about those which obtain all over the civilized world. But the duty of studying carefully the measures proposed and the questions discussed in the National Congress, in their respective State legislatures and in their respective city or town Councils devolves upon no group of women more than upon the colored women of the United States.

One does not have to possess more of her share of gray matter than belongs to her to understand why this is so. It does not require a great amount of perspicacity, profundity or philosophy to see clearly why colored women should not only study carefully the political situation in which they live and move and have their being, but should actively engage in politics wherever whenever and however they can without actually breaking the law.

While all women in our group should try to discharge their political obligations to the Nation, the State, the City or Town, the duty of doing so devolves especially upon colored women who have had the advantage of completing a course in a college of recognized standing. On the principle that he that knoweth the law and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes, the colored college woman who refuses to take an active part in politics should be severely condemned indeed.

Nobody knows better than the college woman whose brain has been trained to think how great are the disadvantages under which her sisters live. She knows that the colored woman has a double burden to carry- the burden of race as well as that of sex. White women all over the civilized world showed how great a handicap they thought sex was by the sesperate efforts they made to secure suffrage. The extreme and violent methods to which the English white women had only one handicap to overcome. What would they not have done, if they had been obliged to surmount two as colored women have to do?

I have been asked to give colored college women explicit dire [illegible] to concerning the best methods to pursue, so as to accomplish something worth while in politics. It would take several volumes to do that, and nobody has time to read nowadays. It would be just as easy to explain Einstein Theory of Relativity or to describe the odontoptoris toliapicus in a few words so that you would recognize him, if you met him on the pike as it would be to give minute directions on “How to Act in Politics.”

As the first director of the Eastern Division for Colored Women during the Harding-Coolidge Campaign I realized more than I had ever done before that situation, methods and conditions confronting colored women differ materially in the various States. The methods which can be successfully pursued in one State might not work well in another. A great deal depends upon the white leaders of a State and upon their attitude toward colored people on general principles. Much depends upon the breadth and justice of the white women who lead.

Each group of colored women must study political methods for itself. Colored women must use diplomacy and tact in trying to get the right men in the primaries. For instance, if they believe a certain man will deal justly by all citizens, themselves included, of course, colored women might go to him and urge him to become a candidate for governor, or senator or any other office for nomination in the primaries of the party to which they belong, assuring him of their own support and promising him to do everything in their power to secure his selection and election.

Colored women must learn to play the political game as they would any other game in which they wished to become proficient and win.

Colored college women who really want to do something tangible to improve the conditions under which the race lives could not possibly do it more swiftly or more surely than by seeing to it that the right men rare nominated for office and then working with all their might and main to elect them.

Terrell, Mary Church. “Colored College Women in Politics.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. 1925.