Elizabeth Lillian Coleman Dixon Bryan

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth Lillian Coleman Dixon Bryan, 1876–1924

By Lee Ann Timreck, Library of Virginia Research Volunteer

Elizabeth Lillian Coleman was born on November 11, 1876, in Halifax, Virginia, the daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Coleman. She married the Reverend James E. Dixon on September 4, 1892, and the couple lived in Halifax for several years. By 1900, they were living on South Union Street in Petersburg, Virginia, with their three children, Mariam, James Jr., and Lucius Dixon.

James Dixon was a minister at the Union Street Black Methodist Episcopal Church in Petersburg until the church was torn down in 1903. The history of Petersburg's Black churches date back to the eighteenth century, with a legacy of social activism that helped launch the Civil Rights movement. Henry Louis Gates Jr., observed that "The Black Church was the cultural cauldron created to combat a system designed to crush their spirit." As a minister's wife, Elizabeth Dixon probably worked alongside her husband to counter the social and educational injustices levied upon Petersburg's Black community.

James Dixon died by 1910, and on August 16, 1917, Elizabeth Dixon married Charles Bryan in Petersburg. In 1920, the year Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment, Elizabeth Bryan was living in Richmond, Virginia, with Charles and her three children. Although her specific engagement with the movement advocating women's right to vote is unknown, she may have been involved with the voter registration efforts led by many of Richmond's prominent African American women. One of them was Maggie Walker, the Right Worthy Grand Secretary-Treasurer of the Independent Order of Saint Luke, the president of Richmond's Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank (the first African American woman to ever serve as president of a bank), and a powerful force for women's rights at the local and national level. In 1920, Walker organized mass meetings across Richmond to educate and encourage Black women to vote, then stood with them in the long lines to pay the poll tax. When Elizabeth Bryan signed the voter registration book on October 2, 1920, she joined Maggie Walker in becoming one of the earliest African American women voters.

In 1921, at the recommendation of Maggie Walker, Elizabeth Bryan and Ora Brown Stokes represented Virginia's Black women voters at the National Woman's Party (NWP) convention in the District of Columbia. Along with the other Black delegates from across the country, Bryan came to protest flagrant violations of the Nineteenth Amendment across the South, and request that the NWP urge Congress to investigate. When the delegation finally met with Alice Paul, President of the NWP, her attitude was described as "thoroughly hostile" by one of the Black delegates; Paul ultimately denied their request to have the conference formally adopt a resolution on voting rights violations.

Shortly after, Elizabeth and Charles Bryan moved to the District of Columbia, where Elizabeth Coleman Dixon Bryan died unexpectedly on September 20, 1924. She was buried in the Columbian Harmony Cemetery, which later closed. In 1959 her body was reinterred in National Harmony Memorial Park Cemetery in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Sources:

Birth date in Halifax County Register of Births, 1876.

United States Census Schedules, Petersburg (1900), Richmond City (1920), Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

First marriage in Halifax County Register of Marriages, 1889–1905.

Second marriage in Richmond City Marriages, 1917, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia.

Voter registration in Rolls of Registered Colored Voters, Lee Ward, 6th Precinct (1920), Richmond City Election Records, Library of Virginia.

List of NAACP Delegation Members to Alice Paul, 12 February 2021,

NAACP Papers, Part 04 Voting Rights and Voting Rights Campaign, 1916-1950 (Feb. 8, 1921-April 3, 1921), frames 61-64, Library of Congress.

"Mrs. Bryant Dickerson" mentioned in Maggie L. Walker to A. W. Hunton, February 17, 1921, NAACP Papers, Administrative Files, box 407, Microfilm Series Part 4-Voting Rights Campaign, 1916–1950, Reel 2.

"Suffrage Memorial and Convention in Washington." Newport News Star, February 24, 1921, page 5.

District of Columbia Death Certificate, Sept. 20, 1924.

Death notice in Washington, D.C., Evening Star, Sept. 21, 1924.

Cott, Nancy F. "Feminist Politics in the 1920s: The National Woman's Party." The Journal of American History 71, no. 1 (1984): 430-68. https://doi.org/10.2307/1899833.

The Harvard Gazette, "How the Black Church Saved Black America: Henry Louis Gates' new book traces the institution's role in history, politics, and culture," 31 March 2021, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/03/the-history-and-importance-of-the-black-church/.

 

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