Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1863, Mary Eliza Church Terrell graduated with a Masters and Bachelors from Oberlin College, with the help of her successful businessman father, Robert Reed Church, a former slave. She became an activist in 1892 when an old friend, Thomas Moses, was lynched for having a competing business to a white one. She worked with journalist Ida B. Wells on anti-lynching campaigns, but moved on to help form the National Association for Colored Women, becoming its first president. Her words “Lifting as We Climb” became the motto of the organization. She strongly believed that equal opportunities would raise black Americans out of their discriminatory place in society. Terrell was also among the founders of the NAACP. Terrell supported female suffrage as well, as a way for black women to support their communities and make change for their race. She even picketed the White House with the National Women’s Party. The double burdens of race and sex were obstacles she recognized as equally crucial to break down.
Terrell went on to publish her biography in 1940, a record of the racism she faced as “A Colored Woman in a White World”. Late in her life she even participated in segregation protests and lived to see the Supreme Court rule segregated eating establishments unconstitutional.