Ella Barksdale Brown

 

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Ella Barksdale Brown, 1871-1966

By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian

Educator, anti-lynching activist, suffragist, and journalist, Ella Barksdale Brown was born in Milledgeville, Georgia on June 22, 1871. According to her obituary, she was born to former slaves, Jefferson Barksdale and Julia Lamar Barksdale. In 1887, she was a member of the first graduating class of Spelman Seminary (later Spelman College). Ella Barksdale married John Marcus Brown (1872-1952) in Georgia in 1898. Before they moved to New Jersey, John operated a broom factory in Macon, GA. In 1901 they moved to Jersey City, New Jersey where John worked as a porter for the Pullman Company. Records show that in 1915, they lived at 343 Halladay Street and by 1919 they were living at 120 Glenwood Avenue in Jersey City, NJ. The couple had four children: Marcia, Jefferson Barksdale, Mildred, and Miriam.

As an educator, Ella Brown spoke to many schools and community organizations on African American history and is credited with introducing the study of African American history to Jersey City public schools. Ella was also a journalist who wrote for several African American newspapers including The Jersey City Journal, The New York Age, The Chicago Defender and The New York Amsterdam News. As an activist, she is credited with persuading the New Jersey Federation to designate March fifth as Crispus Attucks Day in New Jersey. In addition, at the December 7, 1918 meeting of the Federation of Colored Organizations, she proposed that a statue be erected to honor black heroes of WWI and "stand as a silent plea for justice to the Negro." Through her work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Circle for Negro War Relief, the New Jersey Civil Rights Bureau and the National Association of Colored Women, she interacted with important national civil rights leaders including, Mary Talbert, W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Paul Robeson and James Weldon Johnson.

Another organization she was very active with was the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women's Clubs (NJFCWC) led by prominent activist and suffragist Reverend Florence Spearing Randolph. In 1918, the NJFCWC became a branch of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) led by Mary Talbert. The NJFCWC mottos were "Lifting as We Climb" and "Work and Serve the Hour" which aligned with their focus on "uplifting" the status of African Americans as a whole. While being a non-partisan organization, members were encouraged to take action when pertinent issues arose which might affect its racial group. Beginning in 1916, its conventions covered many topics including suffrage, temperance, education, and race history.

In a pamphlet detailing the history of the NJFCWC called Our Heritage, it was noted that the theme of the first annual convention in 1916 was "Temperance and Women Suffrage" and featured national figures including Ray Nash of the NAACP, Mary Talbert president of the NACW, Madam C. J. Walker, and Dr. Mary Waring. Ella was in attendance and was elected Second Vice President. In 1917, Lilian Feickert, President of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, spoke at the second annual convention as did Mrs. Addie Hunton, president of the Brooklyn Equal Suffrage League who gave a talk titled "Colored Women at Work in the United States." Ella, acting as the chairman of the press committee, also addressed the convention giving a speech titled "The Press". As a member of the NJFCWC, she regularly interacted with key New Jersey African American activists and suffragists including Florence Randolph of Summit, Ida E. Brown of Jersey City, Musette Brooks of Newark, Armita Douglas of Newark, and Violet Johnson of Summit.

In her "Jersey City Notes 1919/1920" from the Ella Barksdale Brown Papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University Ella wrote: "The State Federation (New Jersey Federation of Colored Women's Clubs) have already started their drive towards the successful accomplishment of women's rights. Mrs. Julia Keith well known among the club ladies of this city and the far west thru Chicago, and Cincinnati has been elected in charge of the Women's Suffrage work of this State Federation. This committee plans to begin work in Jersey City, and a very good meeting has been arranged for the 19th and 20th of this month at the Community House at which time some of the State official in Woman's Suffrage work will address the meeting. It is anticipated to have Mrs. M. C. Lawton of Brooklyn, NY over to address this meeting also. All are invited."

In August 1921, she wrote an article for The New York Age titled "New Jersey Women Hold Annual Session" which detailed the attendees, speakers, and programs from the sixth annual NJFCWC convention held at the Fountain Baptist Church.

Ella passed away in 1966 at the age of 95 and is buried in the Bayview New York Bay Cemetery located in Jersey City.

Sources:

New Jersey Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, "Our Heritage," Newark Public Library Digital Collections, https://ia801407.us.archive.org/15/items/Kukla035/035.pdf pgs. 8, 9, 10, 15, 17.

Ella Barksdale Brown Papers Introduction, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library/ Yale University. Accessed online at https://beinecke.library.yale.edu/collections/highlights/ella-barksdale-brown-papers

"Jersey City Notes, 1919/1920," Ella Barksdale Brown Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library/ Yale University, Box 6/Folder 161, call # JWJ MSS 41, Series III, pg. 2.

"Colored Women of State Closed Session Here Last Night," The Courier-News (Bridgewater, NJ), July 28, 1917, pg. 9.

"Statue Suggested for Our War Heroes," The New York Age (New York, New York), December 14, 1918, pg. 2.

"New Jersey Women Hold Annual Session," The New York Age (New York, NY), August 6, 1921, pg. 2.

"Resolutions Adopted by N.J. Women's Federation at Summit, N.J. July 28-29," New York Age, 13 August 1921, p. 6.

"Mrs. John Brown, at 95; Was Journal Contributor," obituary screenshot accessed as part of a video on the Facebook page of the Jersey City government at https://fb.watch/goUvaZEq-9/. Name of newspaper and its date are uncertain.

 

Photo of Ella Barksdale Brown as one of the 1887 graduates from the City of Jersey City Official Government Facebook Page at https://fb.watch/goUvaZEq-9/

 

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