Monen L. Gray (Logan)


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Monen L. Gray (Logan), 1880-1952


By Nancy Cole, retired librarian

Monen L. Sexton was born about 1880 in Honea Path in upcountry South Carolina, the fourth of thirteen children of Wesley T. and Martha Sexton. Her father was listed as a farmer in both 1880 and 1900. In the latter year, six of his children, ages 12 to 25, were recorded as farm laborers. In 1900 Monen married Lucius Gray, a brick layer, also South Carolina-born. They resided in Greenville, SC, about forty miles from her family, where they took in two boarders. Monen worked as a teacher. The 1910 census found the Grays living in Athens, Georgia. Lucius was recorded as a brick mason, Monen as a seamstress. They had one child, Harold, age nine. Some time that decade the family moved again, this time to Washington, DC.

In making this move, the Grays joined the Great Black Migration as Blacks fled Jim Crow oppression in the South for northern urban centers. This was a familiar trajectory for many Black women who became woman suffrage activists. At the same time as she left her parental home, her parents and siblings left Honea Path, first to Arkansas and then to Chicago, where widowed Martha Sexton and six children lived in 1920. At least four of her siblings continued to live in Chicago in the 1950s.

According to the 1920 census, Monen and Lucius lived in DC with their son, now 19, and two young lodgers, also from South Carolina. Lucius continued to work as a brick layer. The presidential election of 1920 was the first in which women could vote, and even though DC residents could not vote, Monen Gray immersed herself deeply into politics immediately. Monen founded the Negro Women's National Republican League (NWNRL) in 1919 and the next year she was serving as its president. The official address of the League given in the press was the same as the home address of the Grays.

An optimistic item in the Washington Evening Star of October 1920 reported that branches of the NWNRL had been established in 48 states, and that "experienced speakers are holding rallies nightly all over the country in their efforts to educate colored woman voters in the rudiments of politics." This account seems accurate; in January 1921 League letterhead "listed the names of more than eighty of the most prominent clubwomen from around the country."

Monen L. Gray is next mentioned in February 1921 news of the unveiling ceremony of the Portrait Memorial of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. The memorial was donated by the National Woman's Party and its installation coincided with the Woman's Party national convention. The African American magazine The Competitor reported (and it was reprinted in the Black press elsewhere) that Hallie Q. Brown, president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), "was the only Colored woman permitted to make a plea for her people" at the event. "In the name of common humanity," she was reported to have said, "our organization of one hundred thousand women comes protesting against mobocracy and lynch-law, two forces which if allowed to go unchecked will cause the downfall of this nation..."

Monen L. Gray was reported to be the "dignified" bearer of the NACW banner at the ceremony. The account continued that it was "through the untiring efforts of Mrs. Gray that the Colored women of the country were so successfully represented" at the Capitol ceremony.

In August 1921, the African American Southern Indicator reported its view that Republican President Warren Harding considered the appointment to federal posts of "Southern Negroes...[as] hurtful to the interest of the Republican party." The paper also reported that Monen L. Gray had led a delegation to meet with Harding to invite him to attend the first national convention of the NWNRL to be held in Kansas City, Missouri, later that month. In a "most remarkable speech" to Harding, Gray pleaded "for a square deal for the Negro—asking that they be placed in every Department of the Government." The report continued that "Mrs. Gray is being warmly commended by the leading women of the race for the brilliant fights which she is making for her people and it is predicted that the Kansas City convention will be the most important political gathering ever held by Negroes of the United States."

Much of the deliberations at that convention concerned upgrading the education of African American youth. Resolutions also denounced the Klux Klan and "heartily endorsed" the anti-lynching bill under discussion in Congress.

In October 1922, when Gray was still president of the NWNRL, the Washington Star reported she had "the distinction of being the first woman of her race to be honored with a high position in the federal service." The African American press in other cities reported the news that she had been appointed as "supervisor of the colored section" in the U.S. Treasury register's office.

In March 1923 Gray was elected third vice-president of the Negro National Educational Congress at its annual convention. In October of that year, she was part of a women's delegation from the Educational Congress that called at the White House to present a statement to President Calvin Coolidge (Harding had died in August). It demanded "those rights of citizenship that are granted other law-abiding people of the republic" and included a plea for the "right of franchise in every state of the Union, and for that recognition to which the votes of three million loyal women entitle us." And it concluded with an appeal for the president to suppress organizations with aims "to murder, terrorize and destroy the peace and happiness of any particular group of our citizens."

From 1923 until 1926 Gray worked in the U.S. Treasury department. In June of 1926, the Pittsburgh Courier, an African American weekly, reported that the register of the Treasury "is again charged with discrimination against colored employees" with his firing of 16 Black women, claiming that a 20 percent reduction in force was necessary. The women were listed and Gray was included. There were only 37 "colored employees" at the time. Just four of the sixteen were to be transferred to other departments, the paper reported. That apparently included Gray because up until 1933, city directories gave her occupation as an "operative" in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Monen Gray's son, Harold, died in August 1925 at the age of 24. Monen Gray married again after her marriage to Lucius Gray, to Julian A. Logan. She died May 2, 1952 in Oklahoma City.

Sources: United States Federal Manuscript Censuses. Honea Path, South Carolina, 1880 and 1900, Sexton family; Greenville, SC, 1900, Gray family; Athens, GA, 1910, Gray family; Washington, District of Columbia, 1920, Gray family; Cadron township, Arkansas, 1910, Sexton family; Chicago, IL, 1920, Martha Sexton & family. Marriage record for Wesley Sexton, 1872. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 for Monen L. Gray. Washington, District of Columbia.

Monen L Gray Logan obituary in Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 5, 1952, p. 14.

Committee of race women make call on Pres. Coolidge. The Northwestern Bulletin (St. Paul, MN), 1923, October 6, p. 6.

Materson, Lisa G. For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009).

"Negro Appointments About Due—Notable Aspirants," The Southern Indicator, 6 August 1921, p. 1, col. 5.

Negro women's meet near end. The Kansas City Times (Missouri), 1921, August 25, p. 2.

Precepts given to aid negroes: Senator Spencer urges patience, education, and prayer for progress of race. Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 1923, March 10, p. 5.

Speelman fires 16 women. The Pittsburgh Courier (Pennsylvania), 1926, June 12, p.2.

Woman Republican gets high U.S. office: Mrs. Gray named supervisor in colored section of register's division. Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 1922, October 13, p. 20.

Wright, E. (1921, April 23). Our women take part in suffrage memorial ceremonies. The Dallas Express (Texas), p.4.

Young, O.M. (1921, August 6). Negro appointments about due—many notable aspirants. The Southern Indicator, (Columbia, S.C.), p. 1.


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