I had never heard of Nannie Helen Burroughs until 2008, when I found myself driving down Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in northeast Washngton, DC on my way to Langston Golf Course. When I asked my golfing buddies who was this woman to have a streeet named after her, they replied vaguely that she had founded a school here in Washington, DC. Curious to know more, I visited the campus a few days later. There I discovered that she established the National Training School for Women and Girls in 1909 and had been a contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and James Weldon Johnson. Clearly a woman of substance, I wanted to know more. This led me to her papers archived at the Library of Congress and a two-year study of her life. The end result was The Nannie Helen Burroughs Project.
On the Home Page, I spoke about Nannie Helen Burroughs tasking Mary Alice Dorsett to share her message with the people. I learned about their ongoing relationship during the 2010 convention of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. I attended the convention to expand upon my knowledge of Burroughs, because she had been a close associate of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who founded the organization in 1915 founder. A 1933 letter substantiates their relationship. It reads, "My dear Miss Burroughs: At the special meeting called last evening to work out the details for the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History...you were chosen Secretary of the General Committee. Other persons were suggested as chairmen of the various sub-committees...It was definitely decided, however, that you be chosen as Secretary of the entire Committee. Respecfully yours, C.W. Woodson, Director" Dr. Woodson established Black History Week in 1926, and it was expanded to Black History Month in 1976 by President Ford. Because of Miss Burroughs close association with Dr. Woodson and understanding of the importance of our history, her students were required to take a Negro history class, using books owned by Carter G. Woodson.
An attendee at the convention from Tampa, Florida told me how Miss Dorsett constantly spoke about her. Upon introducing myself to Miss Dorsett by phone, she immedietly became my new best friend, requesting that I give my Nannie Helen Burroughs presentation on her birthday and then again at her funeral, which I did in February 2011 at her 85th birthday party in Tampa. Blessingly, God gave her seven more years, as I spoke about Nannie Helen Burroughs at her Home Going Service in November 2017. She was a constant source of encouragement, insisting that God has me on a mission to bring Nannie Helen Burroughs' message to the people.
Most importantly about the convention was Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas introducing her book, Jesus, Jobs and Justice. This detailed and powerful coverage of Nannie Helen Burroughs and Black women of all religious denominations is but one of the many sources I have used in my work. I want all of the historians whose work I have used to know that I am thankful and in awe of their research and presentations. Again, I am not an historian or educator, just one who believes that Nannie Helen Burroughs' message has not been disseminated to, as she calls them, "the masses" I am simply trying to act as a conduit to achieve that goal, a message which I believe has been set forth scholarly and powerfully in the many documentations of her life and works.
While the project concentrates on the life and works of Nannie Nelen Burroughs, the message for the future of our children is also that of her two sisters in education. Nannie Helen Burroughs, Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Mary McLeod Bethune are known as "The 3 B's of Education" who took their lead from the matriarch, Lucy Craft Laney. Bethune is well-known; but as with Burroughs, I had never heard of Brown until seeing her school's historic sign in 2010 on Route 85, just south of Greenboro, NC. Again, my curiosity took over and I exited onto Route 70 and drove the few miles to Sedalia, the site of the historic Palmer Memorial Institute. I vividly remember proudly announcing myself to Mrs. Wiley, the director, as Colonel Wyatt of The Nannie Helen Burroughs Project, wherein she gladly and gracely produced "The 3 B's of Education" post card. Again, humility came to the forefront.