Mary White Ovington

3b31066_150pxMary White Ovington was born April 11, 1865, in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents, members of the Unitarian Church were supporters of women’s rights and involved in the anti-slavery movement. Educated at Packer Collegiate Institute and Radcliffe College, Ovington became involved in the campaign for civil rights in 1890 after hearing Frederick Douglass speak in a Brooklyn church.

In 1895 she helped found the Greenpoint Settlement in Brooklyn. Appointed head of the project the following year, Ovington remained until 1904 when she was appointed fellow of the Greenwich House Committee on Social Investigations. Over the next five years she studied employment and housing problems in black Manhattan. During her investigations she met W.E.B. Du Bois and was introduced to the founding members of the Niagara Movement.  Ovington joined the Socialist Party of America in 1905. She wrote for radical journals and newspapers.

On September 3, 1908 she read an article written by Socialist William English Walling, entitled “Race War in the North” in The Independent. Walling described a massive race riot directed at black residents in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois that led to seven deaths, the destruction of 40 homes and 24 businesses, and 107 indictments against rioters. Ovington responded to the article by writing Walling and meeting at his apartment in New York City along with social worker Dr. Henry Moskowitz.

By May, 1910 the National Negro Committee and attendants, at its second conference, organized a permanent body known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where Ovington was appointed as its executive secretary.

The following year Ovington attended the Universal Races Congress in London. Ovington remained active in the struggle for women’s suffrage and as a pacifist opposed America’s involvement in the First World War. After the war, Ovington served the NAACP as board member, executive secretary and chairman. She inspired other women to join the NAACP.

June 1934, Mary White Ovington reached out and gave speeches to 14 different colleges. Ovington wanted black youths to understand there were whites who hated race oppression. During her speeches, Ovington would show the geography of all the NAACP location branches and how far the association has come.

Ovington wrote several books and articles, including a study of black Manhattan, Half a Man (1911); Status of the Negro in the United States (1913); Socialism and the Feminist Movement (1914); an anthology for black children, The Upward Path (1919); biographical sketches of prominent African Americans, Portraits in Color (1927); an autobiography, Reminiscences (1932); and a history of the NAACP, The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1947).

Ovington retired as a board member of the NAACP in 1947, ending 38 years of service with the organization. She died on July 15, 1951. Proudly, Mary White Ovington I.S.30 Middle School in Brooklyn was named in her honor. Today, we continue our proud tradition and call P.S./I.S. 30 Mary White Ovington in her honor.


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