Lost to History: One African-American Woman's Views on How to Make Our Country a Better Place.
Project Goal: To Discuss her Views, Recognize her Contributions, and Perpetuate Her Legacy.

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African-American History Education
based in Annapolis, Maryland

After having "discovered" Nannie Helen Burroughs in 2008, I realized that the views and vision of this remarkable woman needed to be embraced by all Americans, especially African-Americans. As Founder of The Nannie Helen Burroughs Project, I am extemely appreciative of the extraodinary work of the academic community historians, such as Drs. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Michele Mason, Sharon Harley, and Sondra Washington, for the great progress in organizing and documenting Burroughs life and works. I offer special thanks to Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas, author of Jesus, Jobs and Justice, who was particularly helpful to me. I am hopeful that this initiative satisfies the requirement stated by the President, Prince Georges' County Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women during a January 16, 2013 presentation: "Colonel, we've heard about her. But, we don't know about her".

Dr. Earl Harrison was pastor of the historic Washington, DC Shiloh Baptist Church from 1931 to
1971, participant in founding the Progressive National Baptist Convention and personal friend of Nannie Helen Burroughs. In his book, The Dream and the Dreamer: "She was far above average in quick, intelligent thinking. She was courageous, charming and dynamic to the point that she was irresistible to the open-minded and contemptible to the jealous and prejudiced." In her book, The Story of Nannie Helen Burroughs, Dr. Sondra Washington writes: "Nannie never married and willingly gave herself to God to do His will. Known to kneel in prayer in her office every day at noon, her relationship with God was so strong that it overflowed into every aspect of her life and work, making it difficult to draw clear lines between her religious, educational, political, and social interests."

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

- Monmouth County NJ Women's Business Club - Circa 1950

Know our History

Our History Our Culture

"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 of ALL RACES 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 unsure about how they would receive the presentation. Surprisingly, the children seemed to readily understand and embrace Nannie's message about respecting others, studying their lessons, and doing tasks given to them by adults. They joined me in reading the poem "DO IT" by Edgar Guest and we sang "The Nannie Helen Burroughs Song" - click on the bullets.

The Nannie Helen Burroughs SongEdgar Guest Poem

Nannie Helen Burroughs wanted our children to understand the importance of self-reliance and personal accountability. She addressed Black and White audiences: Encouraging Blacks towards full citizenship; Assailing the country's power structure; urging Blacks to fight discrimination; Demanding Whites to reject the attitudes and policies of racism; And, challenging both races to cooperate in building a just society. 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. 

Nannie Helen Burroughs of the National Baptist Convention and Una Roberts Lawrence of the Southern Baptist Convention were working cooperatively in the 1930s to solve the racial tensions of the day. Who are the Burroughses and Lawrences working cooperatively to solve the racial tensions of today?

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. Nannie Helen Burroughs' life represented a composite of several great black personalities. She was a family friend and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and an advocate of Frederick Douglass. While she was a friend and admirer of Booker T. Washington, the school for Negro women and girls she established in 1909 had a bi-lateral curriculum, embracing the views of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. 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.

"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.