Born in Memphis in 1863 and an activist until her death in 1954, Mary Eliza Church Terrell has been called a living link between the era of the Emancipation Proclamation and the modern civil rights movement. Terrell was particularly active in the Washington, D.C. area. From 1895 to 1911, for example, she served on the District of Columbia School Board and battled against the inequities fostered by the city"s segregated system. Terrell was the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), which was formed in 1896. In her first presidential address to the NACW, delivered in Nashville on September 15, 1897, Terrell makes a stirring plea for unity, activism, and race pride. That speech, reprinted in 1990 from the original manuscript in the Library of Congress, appears below.
In Union there is strength is a truism that has been acted upon by Jew and Gentile, by Greek and Barbarian, by all classes and conditions alike from the creation of the universe to the present day. It did not take long for men to learn that by combining their strength, a greater amount of work could be accomplished with less effort in a shorter time. Upon this principle of union, governments have been founded and states built. Our own republic teaches the same lesson. Force a single one of the states of the United States to stand alone, and it becomes insignificant, feeble, and a prey to the rapacity of every petty power seeking to enlarge its territory and increase its wealth. But form a republic of United States, and it becomes one of the great nations of the earth, strong in its might. Acting upon this principle of concentration and union have the colored women of the United States banded themselves together to fulfill a mission to which they feel peculiarly adapted and especially called. We have become National, because from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Maine to the Gulf, we wish to set in motion influences that shall stop the ravages made by practices that sap our strength and preclude the possibility of