Ovington, Mary White

Ovington, Mary White

(1865–1951) civil rights reformer; born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her Unitarian upbringing and attendance at the Harvard Annex (later Radcliffe College) (1888–91) inspired her to devote herself to social reforms. She became a settlement house worker in Brooklyn (1895–1903) and also assistant secretary to the Social Reform Club of New York; it was a 1903 speech by Booker T. Washington at the latter that awakened her to the continuing plight of African-Americans, and it was to improving their lot that she devoted the rest of her life. Her original studies led to Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York (1911), and to close associations with prominent African-Americans, particularly W. E. B. Du Bois, and she joined him in founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. She served the NAACP for some 40 years in a variety of posts, including chairperson and treasurer, and in addition to helping organize it and establish its policies during these formative years, she played an invaluable role in mediating between often conflicting personalities in the movement. Although she had been a Socialist since 1905, and spoke against war and colonialism and for women's rights, she was essentially a moderate whose main goal was for the integration of the races. She wrote a syndicated newspaper column in the 1920s and several books dealing with issues of race.
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