Biographical Sketch of Phyllis Terrell (Langston)

Biographical Database of Militant Suffragists, 1913–1920

Biography of Phyllis Terrell (Langston), 1898-1989

By Brian Oloo, undergraduate student, Binghamton University

Phyllis Terrell Langston was a suffragist, civil rights activist, teacher, preservationist and socialite. Having witnessed the rich history of her mother, Mary Church Terrell, the first President of the National Association of Colored Women, and speaker at multiple annual National American Woman Suffrage Association conventions, 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. Phyllis received a fine education at some of the best schools in the northern United States. Having graduated from Wilberforce University, a Historic black university (HBCU), Phyllis became a teacher.

Early in 1917, 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 in the White House protest.

Phyllis Terrell Langston became a staple in the Washington D.C. area. As the administrator of her mother’s diaries and letters, and someone who had her own countless encounters with historic leaders, Phyllis assisted many historians and scholars studying the history 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.

Sources:

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“United States Department of the Interior National Park Service” National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form 10-900, CMB No. 1024-0118 Douglass Summer House Page 10/13.

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Powers, Arnold P. Devour Us Not: Short Stories of African American History. Bloomington, Indiana: XLIBRIS , 2013. pp. 120-22.

Quigley, Joan. Just another southern town: Mary Church Terrell and the struggle for racial justice in the nation’s capital. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. 238-40.

Rouse, Jacqueline A., "A study of the social and educational status of the black man in the District of Columbia 1890-1916" (1973). ETD Collection for AUC Robert W. Woodruff Library. 2194. P. 44.

Samuels, Robert. "The worst house on the block? It's historic." The Washington Post. February 15, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/once-home-to-civil-rights-pioneer-historic-house-is-now-worst-on-the-block-in-ledroit/2014/02/15/83c031ea-8aad-11e3-916e-e01534b1e132_story.html?utm_term=.4f0f9ffaa9f9.

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Terrell, Mary Church, A Colored Woman in a White World (District of Columbia: Ransdell, 1940), pp. 316-17. [LINK].

Terrell, Mary Church, “What Role is the Educated Negro Woman to Play in the Uplifting of Her Race,” in D.W. Culp, Twentieth century Negro literature; or, A cyclopedia of thought on the vital topics relating to the American Negro, (Naperville, Ill.: J.L. Nichols, 1902) pp. 172-77 [LINK].

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