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

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African-American History Education
based in Annapolis, Maryland

Colonel (ret.) James E. Wyatt founded the Nannie Helen Burroughs Project in 2010 based on the following premise:
"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men" - Frederick Douglass

The essence of the project is to address the observation of a chapter president of The National Council of Negro Women: "We've heard about her, but we don't know about her."

Why should we know about her or even care about her?  We should know and care about her because Burroughs teaches our children HOW to think, not WHAT to think. In today's environment, it seems that all of our views are based on preconceived notions, tied to political ideologies. Burroughs was in the Republican Party, but she was apolitical. As she worked hard in 1925 to bring Black and White women together in the interest of Negro Women's Suffrage, she cautioned about the menace ahead: "...Politicians are on the bargaining block...They can be bought and sold...They are corrupt in both parties..."  In the article Vote for Jobs and Justice at the Documents Page, she states: "...In the meantime, you vote for the man in whom you conscientiously believe, without coercion, coin or compromise." 

Nannie Helen Burroughs has been lost to history. Knowing about her is to recognize the contributions she made to our race and country in the areas of civil rights, religion and education. Her views, vision and actions challenge us to consider the relevance of the past, in shaping the present and being responsible for the future. Her past, in addition to the home, clearly impacted her life’s work. Dr. Walter Brooks mentored her in the Nineteenth Street Church on Sixteenth Street in Washington, DC, and she had a close relationship with Frederick Douglass.

Nannie Helen Burroughs, Black Activist in Annapolis, MD


Burroughs understood that character was the essential requirement to meet Douglass’ quote: “…easier to build strong children…” Through the home, church and school (M Street, Now Dunbar), she learned and earned the reputation accorded to her by Morehouse College Professor William Holmes Borders, in his 1954 poem: “I Am Somebody --- I am a moulder of character in Nannie Burroughs.” She understood that children must have unequivocal character to reach their full potential in our society and to move our country to its full potential of freedom and equality for all.

Circa 1950, Burroughs wrote a pamphlet entitled, A National Crusade to Improve American Life on All Fronts. She offered up a statement which seemed to capture the state of conditions in our country in her past and present. “Today terrible conditions and serious race tensions and conflict are tormenting the lives of the people of both races in every section of America.” Below you see how Burroughs addressed audiences across the country dealing with the situation. Recognizing the struggles of our people and the obstacles faced, she advocated for personal responsibility, as she fought racism and discrimination.

Burroughs was convinced that this dual-pronged approach was the path to full-citizenship and a country of freedom and equality. Here is an excerpt from her 1934 address, as the first woman to give the Spring Commencement Speech at Tuskegee Institute:  “ I heard an old woman praying one time. She asked Lord please don’t take me up the rough side of the mountain. I spoke to her afterwards and told her please not to include me in that number because that was not the side I wanted to go up on. I wanted to go up on the rough side because I knew there was some chance I might get to the top. But, if I went up the smooth side, I might slide back down. You young men and women are going up the rough side of the mountain, going through handicaps and barriers; you will have to meet the struggles of this world. But out of this depression you are going to come forth a new group of men and women, strong and with powerful characteristics and lasting influence." 

Burroughs and Douglass understood clearly that the children of today are the parents, teachers, politicians, preachers and police men and women of tomorrow.

An American Hero
Her views and vision from 1900 onward capture the important issues and problems in America, while offering solutions through her exceptional analytical and oratorical skills. After a 1934 Florida Speech, 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”. Howard University Dean Kelly Miller said: “There is no speaker on the American platform who can excel her in…homely powerful presentation of truth that strikes home and response”. Later he exclaimed: “She was a dynamo of energy.  Tracking her was no easy task.  It was like trying to capture the winds in my hands. She moved at an extraordinary pace, touching down on literally every aspect of Negro life for over six decades”.

 During a Period of 6 Decades, Burroughs:

• Encouraged Blacks towards
• 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

An Admired Leader

Nannie Helen Burroughs had a hold on the loyalty and esteem of the colored masses and was regarded all over the broad land as a combination of brains, courage and incorruptibleness. She was straightforward and balanced in her views on all issues and was known as a "Truth-teller". One of the probable reasons for her being lost to history is that she took us "out of our comfort-zone". In the early 1900s, she wrote: "12 Things The Negro Must Do For Himself" and "12 Things White Folks Must Stop Doing". However, Burroughs and other leading Black women leaders concentrated not only on our struggles, but on our strengths, obligations and aspirations. To open and read, please activate the Bullets.
“12 Things…”, Burroughs circa 1900
The 3 B's of Education

During the summer of 2014, we participated in the DC Government Summer Hire Youth Program.  We hosted five students who completed the task of placing Burroughs’ message on social media. We encourage you to “like” us and comment.

Project Activity

Since 2010, presentations have been made to churches, schools, social, civic, and community organizations in Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado. During Black History Month, 2015, presentations were made at the University of the District of Columbia, New Redeemer Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and The Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. It is noted here that Colonel Wyatt believes Burroughs' message should be available to our children 365-24-7.

On April 28, 2015, the Daniel A.P. Murray African American Association sponsored our presentation at the library of congress. Contrary to the usual power point presentation, we used the event as a tune-up for our May 9, 2015 celebration of Nannie Helen Burroughs Day. Attendees were selected to read excerpts of Burroughs vast array of speeches and writings. Ms, Adrienne Cannon, Manuscript historian for the African American Collection, displayed some of Burroughs documents rarely seen in public.

On May 9, 2015, we did honor Nannie Helen Burroughs at M.L.K Library in Washington, DC, with the program theme of: "Celebrating her Contributions - Establishing Her Legacy". The program was designed around readings of her speeches and writings. Interestingly, one of the readings was her 1934 Spring Commencement Speech at Tuskegee Institute, eighty-one years removed from this month's commencement speech by our First Lady . You are aware that Burroughs and Booker T. Washington were very close friends.
Please click on the below bullets to see that reading and other aspects of the program.

. Program Flyer
. Program Content
. Program Excerpts Video
. Tuskegee Commencement Speech
Contact us today in Annapolis, Maryland, for details about this heroic black leader.