Nannie Helen Burroughs Project
Lost to History and the Black Church: One African American Woman's Views on How to Make Our Country a Better Place.

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Project Goal: To encourage our black and white leaders (educational, religious, political, high-profile, etc.) to come together, listen to each other and use her standards as a basis to seek common ground and cooperation in guiding the masses.

African American History Education based in Annapolis, Maryland

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Preface: The above Washington Post "Flashback" is a reflection of Nannie Helen Burroughs' contributions to the education of our children. Lucy Craft Laney was known as the matriarch, and along with Burroughs, Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Mary McLeod Bethune they were referred to affectionately as "The Fab 4 of Education" However, those who knew Nannie Helen Burroughs recognized that her life's work had implications far beyond education. The Green Book movie received multiple awards during the recent Golden Globe Awards Ceremony, and I believe it provides an interesting and powerful vehicle for discussing Nannie Helen Burroughs' views and vision about the past, present, and future of what I consider today's key issue in our country, i.e., racial division and cooperation. Since 2008, I have dedicated my life to opening that discussion, as shown in the above Project Goal. Now at eighty-five years of age, I remain committed to spend my remaining few years to bringing this remarkable woman's views and vision for our country into the lives our children of all races.

Nannie Helen Burroughs letter to Mary Alice Dorsett Dr. Reverend Jeremiah Wright letter to Mary Alice Dorsett Mary Alice Dorsett letter tasking Colonel Wyatt

QuotesThe people do not apply my teachings. When I speak, they agree with me, laugh, give me standing ovations and applauds, but that’s the end of it. Perhaps when I am dead, if someone will share my teachings with them, they might apply them. If so, they will improve themselves economically, intellectually, politically, and socially, and this will make them first-class citizens. I leave this responsibility to you.Quotes


The above are the words of Nannie Helen Burroughs as told to her student Mary Alice Dorsett, who attended the National Training School for Women and Girls from 1947-51. Long after graduation, Miss Burroughs was a mentor and friend to Mary Alice, as shown in the above correspondence. Mary Alice Dorsett transitioned in November 2017. I am not a historian. I simply found the writings of our women historians to be a valuable lesson in how the past, if rationally faced, can be a guide to how we conduct our lives today. As such, having only discovered Miss Burroughs in 2008, I have since used my personal resources to advance her views and vision for our race and country. I once asked of my fraternity brother, Dr. Lawrence Hawkins: "Why did I select this person as the cause to spend the rest of my life, because her views are presented to us in such direct and uncompromising terms that they take us out of our comfort-zone?" He responded: "Brother Wyatt, you did not select her. She selected you"

What would Nannie Helen Burroughs say about the state of turmoil in our country today?

I believe her overarching message would be about the roles and responsibilities of the Home, Church, and School in preparing our children for the future. Her message is depicted in the accompanying image of our country and discussed in her 1956 article, A National Crusade to Improve American Life on all Fronts. My research suggests that people may not have applied Burroughs' teachings because she delivered her message is such direct, harsh and unequivocal terms, taking people "out of their comfort-zone" To take advantage of her message in today's environment, we must accept her intent and hear/endure the total person and her complete message, lest we continue to dismiss the views and vision of this remarkable Black woman.

  • Home: She believed there was a vast difference between a House (a building intended for habitation) and a Home. A Home consisted of elementary social virtues and values: love, godliness, understanding, cooperation, industry, courtesy, unselfishness, cleanliness, order and happiness---a House will eventually become a Home.
  • Church: In a speech at the 1920 National Baptist Convention, she declared: "We might as well be frank and face the truth. While we have hundreds of superior men in the pulpits...the majority of our religious leaders have preached too much Heaven and too little practical Christian Living" In many, the spirit of greed...is ever crying, 'Give me, give me, give me.' Does the absorbing task of supplying their personal needs bind leaders to the moral, social, and spiritual needs of our people? Men must welcome women into the affairs of government. Women must organize and educate. There will be protest against politics in the church, but it is better to have politics than ignorance"
  • School: She stated the goal of her school as follows: 1. Develop every student in positive character traits - The right attitude towards work and pride and skills in their chosen profession. 2. Prepare them to enter into competition with any and all workers who are engaged in the same profession, without fear or apology. 3. Prepare them to clean up the environment in which they live. The school was called "The School of the 3 B's, Bible, Bath and Broom" - symbolic of clean lives, clean bodies, and clean homes.
  • Black Men and Women and Our Children: In a speech, "Bow Down to Women" Burroughs spoke to our Black men. "Stop making slaves and servants of our women. We've got to stop singing 'Nobody works but father' The Negro woman is doing it all. The women are carrying the burden...The main reason for this is that men lack manhood and energy. They sing too much 'I can't give you anything but love, Baby' The women can't build homes and rear families off of love alone. The men ought to get down on their knees to the Negro woman. They've made possible-all we have around us--church, home, school, and business. Aspire to be" she concluded, "all we are and all that we are not, God will give us credit for trying" The Gillette commercial about "toxic masculinity" is causing a "fire storm" across our country today about an identical observation Burroughs made in 1925 about black culture. Why are the women for whom she fought so resolutely not discussing the relevancy of the totality of her views across the spectrum for our race and country today? I further address the issue in FAQs:  Was she biased against men? 
A National Crusade

As is the case today, the above views were surrounded by a divisive political environment. While Burroughs is primarily known for her religious and educational endeavors (starting Women's Day in the Baptist Church in 1907 and founding the National Training School for Women and Girls in 1909) her concerns about our country were more expansive. Dr. Sondra Washington described her as follows in her book: The Story of Nannie Helen Burroughs: "...Known to kneel in prayer in her school office every day at noon, her relationship with God was so strong that it overflowed into every aspect of her life, making it difficult to draw clear lines between her thinking on religious, educational, political and social interests..." I believe it important to dedicate a separate paragraph to her political thoughts, as a basis for us to compare them with the environment today.

  • Politics: After her 1934 speech in Lakeland, Florida to a black and white audience attending a National Association of Colored Women's Convention, a white woman rose to her feet and exclaimed: "I do not deal in superlatives, but Miss Burroughs has given a matchless address. She is not only up-to-date in her understanding and analyses of great questions, but she is 50 years ahead of her time" In addressing Nannie Helen Burroughs and politics, it is again important to emphasize that we need to hear her views and try to relate them to today's environment. I do not suggest that she is right. However, I do suggest that, without exception, all of her views and actions were oriented on what was best for our race and country, and I see a correlation to today's situation. Let me itemized some of her actions and views. 1. In her speeches to black and white audiences, Burroughs encouraged blacks towards full citizenship; assailed the country's power structure; urged blacks to fight discrimination; demanded whites to end racism; and, challenged both races to cooperate in building a just society. 2. She was a Republican, as were most of our race during her day. Some say that it is now the Democrat Party. However, I hasten to say that she was in the party, but not of the party. Burroughs had a basic distrust of politicians and believed one needed to simply vote for that politician who seemed to have his/her best interest, i.e, taking the best possible of both parties. This is a view that Malcolm X also seemed to support. For example, see Burroughs article in 1934, entitled Vote for Justice and Jobs: "...There is just one thing the voters should do...make up a dishonor role of all the men and women who served them with hot air, ancient platitudes and political swill...and put them on ice for life...In the meantime, you vote for the man whom you conscientiously believe, without coercion, coin or compromise" 3. Burroughs 1933 letter to the Republican National Committee: "...The party has made some colossal blunders in handling the Negro group...You must be willing to listen to some Negroes who know what they are talking about...and get over ignoring Negroes who tell you the truth..." 4. Burroughs 1940 letter to President Roosevelt: "...It would seem that blind prejudice would rather feed the Negro on the crumbs that fall from the government's billion-dollar tables than to allow him to work and feed himself...He is also the best spender because he spends all of his money with American merchants...This is not true of other laborers who send some of their money 'Back home' to feed kin, to bank, and to buy land..."

Considering Burroughs views on the impact of the HOME, CHURCH, SCHOOL, and POLITICS, the Project Goal of a discussion, as a minimum, in our Black community might be productive for our country in today's environment of racial discord.

  • The readings on the Documents Page will give a complete picture of the life and works of Nannie Helen Burroughs. Two entrees, Who is Nannie Helen Burroughs and The Congressional Record will provide you with sufficient information to appreciate the objective of this initiative. A study of her life suggests that she was other than an ordinary person. From Faith and Social Justice - T.B. Masron, Levellers: "...Despite what historian Karen Smith described as “double marginalization” by both sex and race in both church and society, Burroughs never took on the role of victim and was rarely angry. She refused to accept defeat and accepted that progress comes in stages. Moreover, Burroughs was pragmatic in her “revolutionary patience” as historian Dorothee Soelle put it. All compromises were temporary—stages to further gains later. Burroughs constantly pushed for change while working within the system..." Nannie Helen Burroughs was critical of both blacks and whites, scolding blacks to take responsibility for full citizenship, and demanding that whites reject the attitudes and policies of white supremacy. As we discuss racism today, it might be helpful to distinguish between structural racism and individual attitudes and behavior. Dr.
  • In 1934 during a speech in Tuskegee, Alabama, she responded to a critic as follows: "...white supremacy and economic hardship are only part of the problem" She spoke of a crisis of the soul and a need for leaders with long-range vision who can see fifty or a hundred years hence and plan to that end. She continued: "This will develop the next generation, whether it be twenty-five or fifty or a hundred years hence - a type of man and woman stronger and more durable mentally, socially and spiritually"
  • In her fight for cooperation between the races, the evidence suggests that she was successful. She and Una Roberts Lawerence, Study Editor of the Women's Missionary Society of the Southern Baptist Convention, worked closely together throughout the 1930s. Lawrence was the primary source of income for her National Training School for Women and Girls when the National Baptist Convention withdrew funding for the school in 1934. Their relationship in the 1930s could offer guidance to us today. Here's an excerpt from a letter dated January 23, 1936: "Dear Miss Burroughs...It was good to see you in Atlanta. I have had a feeling all along that we are doing something, the full extent, and significance of which we cannot understand. It gives me a big thrill...Lovingly yours, Una R. Lawrence"

What Can We Do Now About Nannie Helen Burroughs?

  • The masses need to question our black leaders about why they, without exception, reject discussing her views as possible solutions to the problems we face today in our country. Are her views relevant? If we do not agree that they are, then we should simply reject them. If found to be relevant, we should take action to implement them. However, we simply do nothing. The leaders in our Black Baptist Conventions, for example, did not even give the courtesy of a response to my request for a letter of tribute for a "Wreath Laying-Ceremony" I held in 2018 on the fifty-seventh anniversary of her demise. Nannie Helen Burroughs is lost to history and the church, even as the black women for whom she fought so resolutely remain silent.
  • Nannie Helen Burroughs in 1956 at the Baptist Women's Convention in Denver, Colorado: "Today terrible conditions and serious race tensions and conflicts are tormenting the lives of people in both races in every section of the country. We have quite enough of the occasional---the planned meeting together on special or high occasions, but we have far from enough united interests to bring us together on common grounds to face our common problems and discuss what we can do --- to enlighten all of the people of this nation and enlist them in all of the services that make for the common ground" Nannie Helen Burroughs at a Women's Convention in 1960 declared: "The day of the protest has come out of centuries of frustrations, but the weapons of black warfare must not be frustration and hate. Rather, African Americans must use education, improvement of home and family life and Christian Living to achieve their goals" Can we not at least have a discussion about her views?
  • As a race, we have different views about the work of Tyler Perry. However, his comments at the 2017 CMA Awards Ceremony are remarkably similar to those of Nannie Helen Burroughs: "Now it has never been more important that we all come together, listen to each other, and realize that we are more alike than we are not alike"
  • Believing that Christian Living fostered Cooperation, Nannie Helen Burroughs dedicated an entire chapter to it in her 1950/1952 books, What Do You Think?/Think On These Things: "...Cooperation is made largely of unselfish attitudes, clear vision and common sense---combined to produce definite results in a cause which two individuals or groups or organizations are mutually interested or affected..." I have submitted the following letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center:  Dear Mr. Dees:  I was a contributor to the SPLC, until I discovered Nannie Helen Burroughs' views and vision for our country in 2008.  At my website, www.nburroughsinfo.org, please see that you and Miss Burroughs have the same objectives, i.e., Fighting Hate, Teaching Tolerance and Seeking Justice.  I support my project with personal resources and promise to make a $200 contribution, provided you post my website on yours and comment about how both approaches could find "common ground" in pursuing their objectives."  Sincerely, James E. Wyatt (Colonel, US Army, Retired) - Founder, The Nannie Helen Burroughs Project
Know Our History. Know Our Culture. Know Ourselves. Be Proud! Nannie Helen Burroughs - Fought Racism, Sought Cooperation - America's Future? Obama

President Obama: "No one is born hating another person because of his skin color or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love..." Nannie Helen Burroughs fought racism and also sought cooperation. Below are some historical examples of cooperation. I start with a personal example because it is what I believe and witnessed the positive results.

  • Subject: Letter of Appreciation July 21, 1972

To: LTC James E. Wyatt, Commanding Officer - 1st Battalion, School Brigade

I wish to take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the entire Fort Monmouth community...The initiative you have shown in organizing such things as the first racial seminar on this installation in 1970, the Racial Talk-Back Sessions held monthly, and the recent Black Awareness Week activities, have added immeasurably in the attainment of our goal of racial harmony here at Fort Monmouth...

V. C. Devan - Colonel, Commanding

  • The records show that Nannie Helen Burroughs' cooperative endeavors included: working on the Commission on Interracial Cooperation; religious activities with the Virginia Theological Seminary and College and Reverend Billy Graham; working with Una Roberts Lawrence, President of the Women's Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention, on women's issues as well as receiving financial support for her school. They just happened to become wonderful friends.
  • Booker T. Washington in his 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech stated that the races could work together as one hand while socially remaining as separate as the fingers. In 1895, Nannie Helen Burroughs was in her senior year of high school, and it seems that hearing a Colored man given this powerful speech greatly impacted her life.
  • Nannie Helen Burroughs fought structural racism, sought and found cooperation between blacks and whites in religion, social interests, and education in the form of support for her school. While her work was primarily with, and about, women, its impact was far beyond just black women's rights and respect. My study of her life and works show her to be a composite of some of the primary views of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Dr. King. Again, why are we allowing her to be lost to history and the black church?

I found the December 17, 2017 article, Bonfire of the Academies, to be a good start at defining the problem: "...What of Martin Luther King's dream?...the content of our character...Left and Right historically disagree on the extent of current inequities in the current system, and on the wisdom of decision making. Those on the Left tend to focus on the inequities in the system; those on the Right tend to argue for personal responsibility. The Left tends to see structural unfairness in the system and is inclined to intervene. The Right tends to see a landscape of opportunity and fears the unintended consequences of new initiatives. Both positions have merit and, despite the frequent tenor of conversations between the factions, they are not mutually exclusive. Wisdom is likely to emerge from the tension between these worldviews, uniting good people around the value of a fair system that fosters self-reliance as it distributes opportunity as far as possible..."

Maybe the assessment described above is right! Maybe it's not right! Alternatively, we could describe today's problems differently. However described, I think the life and works of Nannie Helen Burroughs address the issues. Maybe we can use them as standards to govern our lives today. What do you think?

Nannie Burroughs says: "Come on!"

Nannie Helen Burroughs

As our society has become one of a more mundane nature, there may be a tendency by some to dismiss her views because she was a deeply religious woman. However, we addressed above that there were no clear lines between her religious, educational, political, and social interests." What seems to be really important is the responsibility she accorded to our leaders. She once declared: "A race transforms itself through its own leaders. It rises on its own wings or is held down by its own weight. True leaders never set themselves apart. They are with the masses in their struggle. They simply got to the front first. Their only business at the front is to inspire the masses by hard work and noble example and to challenge them to 'Come on'!"

This remarkable woman committed literally all of her views and vision about our race and country to writing. Unfortunately, there is no audio or video recording of her life, ergo, the articles on the Documents Page. As racial division today seems to question what our country means to us, Nannie Helen Burroughs' views and vision for America are summed up in the chapter entitled, Put The Lump In The Leaven, in her book, Think on These Things, Fifth Printing -1982, where she addresses our struggles and aspirations: "Democracy is like a lump of leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of a meal, until the whole was leavened...All social changes are the result of work. Democracy brings change. Democracy means continuous, progressive readjustment. Of course, that means danger. There are always those who fear change. For change threatens established things. Slowly, but surely, the yeast of Democracy is permeating the social order. It will continue until the whole lump is leavened. The nation will eventually rise above the injustice and race prejudice. Keep on believing, praying and working...'O beautiful for pilgrim feet...O beautiful for patriot dream...America! America! God shed His grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood...From sea to shining sea!' In the fullness of time, God will shed His grace on America." She lived her life in the tradition of a New Jersey's Monmouth County Business & Professional Women's organization, established in 1950: "We are beholden to the past. We are shaping the present. We are responsible for the future."

We can agree or disagree with her views. But, Nannie Helen Burroughs life demands no less than an open and honest discussion about her views and vision for America, especially from the women for whom she fought so resolutely in the church and throughout society. She was a builder as confirmed by her contributions to the Women's Suffrage movement. As we approach the year of 2010, the centennial anniversary of the women's right to vote, a statue to honor that event is being erected in New York City. I am informed that Burroughs will be honored by having one of her quotes inscribed on the statue. See her contributions to the cause on the Documents Page with her 1923 article on Negro Women's Suffrage, published in the West Virginia Women's Voice. Yes, Nannie Helen Burroughs was a Builder.


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