Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Phyllis Terrell (Langston), 1898-1989

By Brian Oloo, undergraduate student, Binghamton University

Phyllis Terrell Langston was a suffragist, civil right activist, teacher, preservationist and socialite. Having witnessed the rich history of her mother, Mary Church Terrell, the first President of the National Women Association of Colored Women, and speaker in the annual National American Woman Suffrage Association conventions in Washington D.C., Phyllis worked alongside her mother, and continued to archive and preserve her legacy.

Phyllis Terrell was born April 2, 1898 in Washington D.C. to Mary Church Terrell and Robert, H. Terrell, the first Black municipal court judge in D.C., appointed by Presidents Taft, Roosevelt, and Wilson. Phyllis was named after the notable American poet Phyllis Wheatley, and had an adopted sister Mary Beaudreaux (Terrell). Phyllis first married Lieutenant William C. Goines; later she married Lathall DeWitt Langston. Educated in the best schools in the northern United States, Phyllis received the best education. Having graduated from Wilberforce University, a Historic black university (HBCU), Phyllis became a teacher.

Phyllis Terrell joined her mother in picketing the White House during the National Woman’s Party demonstrations calling on President Woodrow Wilson to support a federal woman suffrage amendment. In February 1921, Phyllis and her mother received pins commemorating their participation the White House protest.

Phyllis Terrell Langston became a staple in the Washington D.C. area, becoming the postmaster for the new generations of suffragists and civil rights organizations. Being the administrator of her mother’s diaries and letters, along with her own countless encounters with historic leaders, Phyllis assisted many historians and scholars regarding the plight of African Americans.

Among Phyllis’s many accomplishments was her work with groups such as National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC). In 1962, she and others succeeded in getting her neighbor’s house, the Frederick Douglass Home, declared a National Shrine by an Act of Congress. The site was located in Highland Beach, on Chesapeake Bay, a beach community for African Americans established by one of Frederick Douglass’s sons, Charles Douglass. Highland Beach was the destination of educator Booker T. Washington; poets Langston Hughes and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and generations of Douglasses.

Phyllis Terrell Langston died August 1989, at the age of 91.


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