- NAME: Mary White Ovington
- OCCUPATION: Children's Activist, Civil Rights Activist, Women's Rights Activist, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: April 11, 1865
- DEATH DATE: July 15, 1951
- EDUCATION: Radcliffe College, Packer Collegiate Institute
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
- PLACE OF DEATH: Newton Highlands, Massachusetts
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Mary White Ovington was a civil rights activist and one of the white reformers who helped found the NAACP.
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Mary White Ovington was born on April 11, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York. Reared by abolitionist parents, she had a zeal for social reform. After hearing a 1903 speech by Booker T. Washington, Ovington devoted herself to racial equality. In 1909 Ovington and fellow civil rights reformers established the NAACP and she held a variety of positions in the organization. Ovington died in 1951.
"If we deny full expression to a race, if we restrict its education, stifle its intellectual and aesthetic impulses, we make it impossible to fairly gauge its ability."
"These are difficult days, but there is always hope."
Social reformer Mary White Ovington was born on April 11, 1865, in Brooklyn, New York, where she also grew up. Ovington was one of four children raised in a socially and politically progressive household. Many members of her family had been active in the abolitionist and women's rights movements. She and her family attended services at a local Unitarian Church, led by minister John White Chadwick. Chadwick's radical ideals had a strong influence on Ovington.
Ovington first attended the Packer Collegiate Institute and then continued her studies at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had leave school in 1893 before completing her degree because the family ran into some financial difficulty. Back in Brooklyn, Ovington soon began her life of social work.
In the mid-1890s, Ovington helped the poor at what became known as the Greenpoint Settlement. She drew inspiration from Jane Addams of Chicago's Hull House, another settlement that provided shelter and services to those in need. In addition to her social work at Greenpoint, Ovington soon took on another challenge. She began studying the lives of African Americans living in New York at the time. Her research would result in the 1911 book Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York. Ovington has been quoted as saying, "If we deny full expression to a race, if we restrict its education, stifle its intellectual and aesthetic impulses, we make it impossible to fairly gauge its ability."
While at Greenpoint, Ovington was also active in the Social Reform Club. It was at a club event that she had a chance to listen Booker T. Washington give a speech. Around 1904, Ovington left Greenpoint. She came down with typhoid and subsequently spent a year recuperating from her illness. During this time, Ovington began exchanging letters with famed African American intellectual and activist W.E.B. Du Bois. She became more politically engaged, joining the Socialist Party in 1905.
In addition to her social work, Ovington also had a career as a journalist. She wrote for a number of publications, including the New York Evening Post. Her life, however, was profoundly changed by an article written by another in 1908. William English Walling penned a piece about a racial attack in Springfield, Illinois, on the town's African American residents. This riot left seven people dead and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. In his article, Walling asked for people to unite in support of African Americans.
Ovington contacted Walling, and she and Dr. Henry Moskowitz met with Walling at his New York home.
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"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." Stated by legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., these words represent a basic human philosophy to which black history's greatest leaders have passionately subscribed. Learn more about the world's most revered civil rights activists, known for their fight against social injustices and lasting impact on the lives of black citizens, including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
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