FAQs about Nannie Helen Burroughs
Discover more about a hero in African American history with the Nannie Helen Burroughs Project, based in Annapolis, Maryland. As a black activist, Burroughs was at the forefront of a racial revolution in our country. Contact us today to learn more.
Q. Was Nannie Helen Burroughs well-known during her life time?
A. Yes. She was well-known and respected in our country and throughout the world because of her activities at home and abroad. Please see her activities on the Documents Page in the aritcle entitled, "Who was Nannie Helen Burroughs and Why Should We Care?"
Q. Why is so little written about her that she is not well-known today?
A. One theory is that most historians were male, and she fought sexism in every aspect of society. A second theory is that shortly after she passed in 1961, many important things happened to overshadow her accomplisments, such as Civil Rights Legislation and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. A third reason may be the fact that she was known as a "truth-teller" who tended to take people out of their comfort-zone, e.g., her "12 Things..." on the Documents Page.
Q. What was her philosophy of the National Training School for Women and Girls founded in 1909?
A. She believed in the 3 R's and 3 B's, "Reading, Riting and Rithematic" and "Bible, Bath and Broom" signifying clean lives, clean bodies, and clean homes. Additionally, as a close friend of Booker T. Washington, Burroughs embraced his industrial educational philosophy. However, she established a Bi-Lateral education curriculm which included the views of W.E.B. Du Bois.
Q. How was she so well-known throughout the country and world?
A. In 1902, she traveled 32,350 miles in the United States doing the work of the newly created Baptist Women's Auxiliary, without compensation. In 1905, she was the keynote speaker at the First Baptist World Alliance Congress in Hyde Park, London. Negro women and girls from Africa, the Caribbean and India attended the school she founder in Northeast Washington, DC. in 1909.
Q. What was Nannie Helen Burroughs level of formal education?
A. She was an 1896 graduate of Washington, DC's M Street School, now Dunbar High School, and did some business school studies in Louisville, Kentucky. Shaw University presented her with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in 1944. Burroughs believed that a student achieving a college degree should come out and work in the school system and exhaust that level of learning before pursuing higher degrees.
Q. Was she married?
A. No. Just as was the case with her close friend Carter G. Woodson, she was married to her work. Her life was dedicated to her school, the church, and efforts on the national political scene.
Q. Having addressed the the most frequent FAQs, I want to speak, in considerable lenght, to two questions seldon asked, but can address the totality of Nannie Helen Burroughs First, can her life and works be summed up in a few excerpts from speeches and quotes. Secondly, was she biased against men?
A. Here are a few excerpts and quotes. 1. Country: In the 1928 Presidential election, there were those who questioned the validity and importance of the 18th Amendment , Prohibition, because it was not being enforced and wanted to cancel it. Burroughs position was: "If you remove the 18th Amendment, you will start on the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. We don't follow the Ten Commandments, but we don't try to remove them. The constitution sets the standards for our country" 2. Individual Accountability, Responsibility and Opportunity: a. From her 1934 Commencement Speech at Tuskegee Institute: "...I want to take the struggles, the hardships and handicaps of this civilization and turn them into stepping stones. That is what other races have done...Disrergarding their handicaps, they decided within their own souls that they were men who could look this old world in the face...beat down the barriers and climb the rough side of the mountain. 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 to please not to include me in that number, because that was not the side I wanted to go up on. I wanted to 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 doww..." b. "If you don't have a job, make one" c. "They tell this story about my grandmother...She would say, yes, honey, I was enslaved, but I wasn't no slave. I was just in it. They may have slaved my body, but they didn't slave my mind" 3. Racism and Cooperation: From her undated article on Brotherhood and Democracy: "...A great opportunity for race appreciation has come through service in the American home. It is there...that each race has found the soul of the other...some of the finest friendships...Quiet, unknown, unproclaimed - there are white women - in their homes - in daily contact - who have given to the cause of interracial goodwill. They have given the spirit of genuine respect and personality. In that sacred relationship, memebers of the two races have learned to care about, and share each other's interests and sorrows and bear each other's burdens..."
B. As pertains to bias against men, the short answer is no. However, given the direct and harsh statements about and interactions with men, it is understanable how one could believe that she was. Here are some examples: 1. During the time of her 1900 speech (How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping) at the National Baptist Convention: A man arose and said: "who's that young girl? Why don't she sit down? She's always talking and she's just a startup" Nannie responded: "I may be a startup, but I am just starting up" 2. Her statement at the 1920 National Baptist Convention, discussed on the Home Page, above, about the ministers and the role of women in the church. 3. About her father, John Burroughs: "...My father was an itenerant minister. His mother and sister thought he was too intelligent to do ordinary work...and he seemed to agree with them" 4. Taking Du Bois and the NAACP to task in an article in the Afro-American Newpaper in 1934: "...You would think that the whole world has come to an end because one man 'does not chose to fight' segregation any longer...Any man who is hired can quit when he pleases. A person who is paid to solve the Negro problem is no exception. He could have kept his mouth shout and continued to draw his decreasing stipend from the NAACP..." 5. Now see her 1923 letter to Mrs. S. W. Layten, President of the Women's Auxiliary to the Baptist Convention, which Burroughs founded: "...your advice as to the disposition of this matter is so strange that I cannot understand it...What in the world do you mean by saying that you want the women to authorize you to ask Doctor Williams to act for the Women's Convention? Aren't you the president...? Well of all things! I know just how you feel towards me and I know what you are saying about me, but this letter of yours is the funniest thing I have ever read!" Having said the above, consider that in the small museum in her school, now closed, at the front of the enclosed display are photos of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and James Weldon Jonson next to a photo of her. My research convinced me that Burroughs was a complicated person, who had strong beliefs and opinions about things she considered to be in the best interst of all people and our country, and she gravitated to and supported the people, regardless of race or gender, who supported her views. She understood human nature and set standards for our conduct, which I believe are relevant today. Dr. Earl L. Harrison, Pastor of Washington DC's historic Shiloh Baptist Church from 1930-1971, was a friend who assumed the principalship of her school for two years after she passed. He wrote a book about her entitled, The Dream and the Dreamer. I think he best described how she was, and maybe is, received, adversely affecting peoples' perceptions: "Nannie was gifted with extraordinary oratorical ability. 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 prejudice." I close this attempt at answering the question with a statement by Bernice King, Dr. King's daughter about Gillette's "toxic masculinity" commercial : "This commercial isn't anti-male. It's pro-humanity and it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions" Nannie was a mentor to to Dr. King and the motto of this Nannie Helen Burroughs Project is: "Rebuilding a Culture of Character"
Is she biased againt men? What do you think?
Q. How do I get more information about Nannie Helen Burroughs?
A. First, review this website, especially the Documents Page. Secondly, simply go to your browser and key Nannie Helen Burroughs into the search box.
Contact us today in Annapolis, Maryland, for details about this icon of African-American history.