Lost to History: African-American’s Views and Vision – On The Way To
An Improved America
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Project Objective: To Recognize Her Contributions and Establish Her Legacy

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African-American History Education
based in Annapolis, Maryland

Preface

I founded The Nannie Helen Burroughs Project in 2010 with the objective of bringing her views and vision for America back into our lives. In spite of her contributions to the country in the areas of religion, civil rights and education, she has been all but forgotten. The Prince George's County (MD) Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women President said of Burroughs during a 2013 presentation: "Colonel, we've heard about her, but we don't know about her." I have now dedicated myself to telling people about her.

In spite of my multiple academic degrees and extensive professional experience, it wasn't until 2008 while on my way to Washington's historic Langston Golf Course that I first heard of her. Who was Nannie Helen Burroughs to have a main thoroughfare in Northeast Washington, DC named in her honor? My curiosity led me first to the school she founded in 1909 on "Holy Hill" and then to the Library of Congress which has more than 110,000 documents, in addition to other items from her personal estate at the school.

I became so intrigued with Burroughs and her legacy that I took a hiatus from golf - my passion for the prior fifty-six years - and spent two-years studying her life. In addition to the Library of Congress archive (which was compiled by Harvard Professor Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, the granddaughter of Burroughs' pastor and mentor, Dr. Walter Brooks of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church on Sixteenth Street), there are many other resources on Burroughs. I am appreciative of, and grateful to, the historians and others who have written about this remarkable woman. I am simply a consumer of their labors, telling her story to our citizens (old and young, black and white)). While Nannie Helen Burroughs is a part of our past, I am convinced that to "...know about her" represents a viable roadmap for our black leaders to follow as they attack our country's current racial problems.

James E. Wyatt (Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired)
Founder, The Nannie Helen Burroughs Project

We are beholden to the past.
We are shaping the present.
We are responsible for the future.

Know our History

Our History Our Culture

Colonel (Ret.) James E. Wyatt founded the Nannie Helen Burroughs Project in 2010
"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men" - Frederick Douglass
Burroughs was an advocate of Frederick Douglass. She taught our children How to Think, as opposed to what to think. From the time she graduated from M Street School (Now Dunbar High School) in Washington, DC, she faced, fought, and overcame many of the same societal obstacles confronting us today. Circa 1950, she published a pamphlet entitled, A National Crusade Working To Improve America. Nannie was convinced that the character of our people, as a nation, was shaped by the training our children received in the home, church and school. She understood that the children of today are the parents, teachers, preachers, politicians and policemen/women of tomorrow. My most difficult task, and yet most successful and enjoyable, since starting the project was presenting to the 1st graders at Georgetown East Elementary School in Annapolis, Maryland. I was frightened to death and they were wonderful. They joined me in reading the poem "DO IT" by Edgar Guest and we sang "The Nannie Helen Burroughs Song" - click on the bullet.

The Nannie Helen Burroughs Song
The Black Goddess of Liberty

Over a period of 6 decades, Nannie Helen Burroughs attacked the above problems as follows:

During a Period of 6 Decades, Burroughs:

• Encouraged Blacks towards
   Full Citizenship
• Argued for Institutional and Political Change
• Urged Blacks to Fight Discrimination
• Demanded Whites to Reject the Attitudes
and Policies of Racism
• Challenged Both Races to Cooperate in Building
a Just Society


Burroughs' approach to fighting racism and discrimination was to fight unjust actions and behavior, while
simultaneously seeking areas of cooperation between the races. She was balanced in her views and actions. Most significantly, however, was the fact that her directness and "truth-telling" took people out of their comfort-zone. By way of emphasis, our black leaders of today might consider using the roadmap given to us by Burroughs as they fight racism and discrimination. Click on the below Bullet to see the views she expressed, circa 1900. Are they relevant today?

•"12 Things..." Circa 1900, Burroughs wrote, "12 Things The Negro Must Do For Himself" and "12 Things White Folks Must Stop Doing". She believed in equal opportunities and equal challenges. Her emphasis, however, was concentrated on taking personal responsibility for the things that we, as a race, could change, ergo, the attached. See both "12 Things..." on the Documents Page. Are they relevant today?

In 1975, Mayor Walter Washington proclaimed May 10, as Nannie Helen Burroughs Day in Washington, DC, honoring her many contributions to the city. Click on the below Bullets to see the 2015 Celebration.

Nannie Helen Burroughs Day Program
2015 Program Video

Author Karen Smith best describes Burroughs in her writing, A Voice for Social Reform. She writes that Burroughs came from poverty and from a context of double marginalization: by race and sex.  That double marginalization came in both church and society.  But it did not seem to make her angry.  She refused to accept it, but would take progress in stages.  She was pragmatic in her "revolutionary patience" (Dorothee Soelle), but all compromises were temporary--stages to further gains later. Burroughs is described as constantly pushing for change while working within the system. 

For instance, she supported Booker T. Washington's program of educating most African-Americans as mechanics and farmers, etc. It wasn't that she didn't want doors of higher education open or for a "talented tenth" (W.E.B. du Bois' term) to rise to the highest levels of society and compete with Whites on their own terms.  It was just that Burroughs knew that the majority of Blacks were not ready for that.  A generation ago they were slaves who could be punished by death for even daring to learn to read. 

She wanted social advancement  for the majority of her race--without ever losing sight of the goal of pure equality.  But a majority of self-sufficient shoppers, mechanics, and small farmers would at least not be in poverty or prison, even if they were not yet in the finest universities. Burroughs showed that she embraced the views of both Washington and du Bois, establishing a Bi-lateral  Education curriculum in the school she established in 1909 for Negro women and girls. For example, the students studied Home-making courses as well as Latin.  The school also may be considered as the first educational institution with Black History studies, primarily attributable to Burroughs' close relationship with Carter G. Woodson.

I conclude that Nannie Helen Burroughs' life and actions represent a composite of several great Black personalities. She was a family friend and mentor to Dr. King, a friend and admirer of Booker T. Washington and an advocate for Frederick Douglass.

"A race rises on its own wings, or is held down by its own weight." 

- Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs, Black Activist in Annapolis, MD
Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879 - 1961)

Contact us today in Annapolis, Maryland, for details about this heroic black leader.