The National Council of Negro Women is still active and committed to education and self-sufficiency, especially for African-American women. Yes, the name is dated, but the group’s legacy is rich and its ongoing mission as important as it was last century.
The Seattle section, which is what chapters are called, provides aid to young women who are trying to improve their lives. Most of them are undergraduate or graduate students in college, but the main requirement is that they be striving for something better.
The NCNW’s work is beneficial to the community, but like many good organizations it is so low-key that maybe you don’t know about it. You probably do know the name Mary McLeod Bethune, maybe because she was a key adviser to Franklin Roosevelt and a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, or because she founded Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla. Bethune founded the council in 1935, and it continues as a place for women, who, like Bethune, work to improve their communities. Acknowledging their contributions is encouraging for them and uplifting for us.
But we aren’t going to do just that today. Last Saturday, the Seattle section honored women who aren’t members but are active in community work. The Rev. LaVerne C. Hall, president of the section, told me she wanted to make the section’s 50th- anniversary celebration about other women, who don’t get enough attention, but she’s 75, and the 50th is five years away, so being practical she thought she’d better organize something now.
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And the other 50-plus members aren’t getting younger either, which prompted me to ask how the organization fits in a time so different from when the chapter was founded in 1968, and even more different from 1935.
Hall said it’s difficult to recruit younger members here and nationally. “Most of the women who are in the organization are my age or are approaching my age,” she said. “It’s not time for us to to be replaced, but time for us to pass on what we know and also to learn from them (younger women).” Members are meeting with groups of young women and educating them about the history and purpose of the council.
Legally mandated segregation is gone, but groups like the council that primarily help black people or members of other minority groups are still relevant. And the NCNW’s strategy — helping people who are trying to help themselves — never goes out of fashion.
Hall is working on a doctoral dissertation — yes, that strong belief in education and self improvement doesn’t stop with age — on Sojourner Truth, the great abolitionist and women’s-rights advocate.
Things change, Hall said, but “we’re still faced with some of the same challenges and situations that Sojourner was faced with back in the 1800s. We’re still faced with some of the same issues that Mary McLeod Bethune was faced with …”.
“We could look at education, we could look at employment, we could look at housing, we could look at medical attention, and across the board, there are still challenges. All we have to do is read the newspaper today.”
In her time, Bethune was known for her ability to bring black and white people together. She believed we ought to be one community, but she didn’t wait for that to happen. She reacted to a whites-only beach by helping buy beach property that any American could use.
So when Hall and the section thought someone ought to honor black women community volunteers, they held a lunch, gave awards and made a beautiful book of portraits and brief biographies, “Time in Her Hands,” to honor 45 women. They also raised more money for their Lillian Gideon Legacy Awards for young women pursuing education.
Hall flipped through the book’s pages pointing out some of the honorees like LaVerna Jones Oliphant, an accountant and pioneer businesswoman, whose husband was a Tuskegee Airman. At 90, she’s the oldest honoree. She coached track, mentored future accountants, was a founding member of the Urban Business Association.
“Here’s Linda Smith, who has just gotten started a homeless shelter in Renton,” she said. And a few pages away there was Bridgette Hempstead, founder of Cierra Sisters, Inc., which provides education about women’s health and particularly about breast cancer.
Ophelia Randall Ealy, who organized the Michael Ealy Social Justice Foundation, named for her son, who died while being restrained by police in 1998, is in the book, and so is Seattle Police Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin, who works with young people in central and southeast Seattle.
There’s Deborah Boone, who co-founded the Model Family Mentorship Program. Hall still has copies of the book; reach her at email@example.com or 425-591-5607.
Hall said, “It’s a book of women who give of their time and their talents.” You might have your own list of such women, and it’s a sure thing that time has not eroded the need for people like that. Thank you, ladies.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org