Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Jennie Mustapha, 1898-1992

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Jennie Mustapha was born in 1897 in New York state to John and Jennie Mustapha, recent migrants from South Carolina. Shortly thereafter the family moved to Stratford, CT where Jennie had her schooling. In the 1910 census her father was recorded as a porter on a steamship and her mother as a dressmaker. Jennie was the youngest of five daughters.

Jennie graduated from Howard University as the class valedictorian in 1919 and after a year working at the Camden (NJ) YWCA she became a teacher in the Business Department at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. The department later became Cardozo High School, where she served as acting assistant principal and then as Dean of Girls. In 1934 she served as principal of the Cardozo Night School. She held the position of assistant principal at Cardozo from 1935 until her retirement in 1961.

She continued her education while working at Dunbar and Cardozo High Schools. In 1928 she studied abroad in England and France and later she earned an M.A. in English and philosophy at Columbia University.

In February 1921, Mustapha joined a delegation of 60 Black women suffragists, who protested violations of the recently ratified 19th Amendment in Southern states that denied Black women their voting rights. The delegation, headed by the field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Addie W. Hunton, met with Alice Paul, head of the National Woman's Party (NWP), on the eve of the party's national convention. Their purpose was to press the NWP to pass a resolution calling on Congress to investigate the failures of Southern states to enforce the 19th Amendment for Black women. Paul made no such commitment and the convention as a whole refused to endorse the call.

Jennie Mustapha married U. Simpson Tate in September 1934. She went by Mrs. Mustapha Tate until at least 1939, but references beginning in 1947 once again went by Miss Jennie Mustapha. She maintained warm feelings toward Howard University and served as chairman of arrangements for the celebration of the 72nd anniversary of the University in February 1939. She also attended her 60th class reunion in 1979, where she was interviewed as one of seven "Nineteeners" who attended.

While assistant principal at Cardozo she extended an invitation to Pearl S. Buck to speak at the mid-year commencement in 1951. The Superintendent of D.C. Schools made it his practice to check the names of all speakers in district schools in an unevaluated file prepared by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Finding Buck's name there, he demanded that Mustapha rescind the invitation and he placed a formal reprimand in her file. When she signed a letter from Cardozo teachers protesting the superintendent's actions, she received a second reprimand.

Subsequent analysis of this incident suggests that Buck's invitation to speak was rescinded because of her strong stand against school segregation as much as for her alleged "Communist sympathies." The District's segregated school system was one of the cases brought together in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

After her retirement in 1961 she taught English for two years as an appointed missionary at the American Collegiate Institute in Turkey. Back in Washington, D.C., she served on the Board of Trustees of Sidwell Friends School, for three of those years as secretary.

She died in Washington, D.C. in May 1992 and was buried in Union Cemetery in Stratford, CT.

Sources:

Federal Manuscript Censuses, Stratford, CT, 1900-1920. Accessible online with Ancestry Library Edition.

List of NAACP Delegation Members to Alice Paul, 12 February 1921, NAACP Papers, Part 04 Voting Rights and Voting Rights Campaign, 1916-1950 (Feb. 8, 1921-April 3, 1921), frames 61-64, Library of Congress. Accessed via ProQuest History Vault online.

"D.C. Man Wed in Connecticut," Washington Evening Star, 11 Sept. 1934, p. 121.

"Howard U. Will Mark 72d Anniversary," Washington Evening Star, 27 Feb. 1939, p. 24.

"Jennie Mustapha," finding aid, Digital Howard @ Howard University. Accessed online at https://dh.howard.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1141&context=finaid_manu.

"Ms. Buck Didn't Stop Here," Washington Post online. Accessed at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1999/03/08/ms-buck-didnt-stop-here/e740d16c-5b88-49f5-aa83-25aeaec9a838/.

"Pearl Buck's Lost Historic Speech on Civil Rights," on the Preserving Perkasie website. Accessed online at https://preservingperkasie.com/2021/10/14/pearl-bucks-lost-historic-speech-on-civil-rights/.

Find-a-Grave entry for Jennie Elizabeth Mustapha. Accessed at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/186016471/jennie-elizabeth-mustapha.

Robert F. Levey, "1919 Howard Graduates Relive the Days of Youth and Hope," Washington Post, 17 May 1979, accessed online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1979/05/17/1919-howard-graduates-relive-the-days-of-youth-and-hope/0f367bc7-69e5-41b4-b355-b9c4924fdb2f/.

 

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