Civil Rights Tour: Protest - Mary Church Terrell, Tireless Advocate

1615 S Street NW

"Suspected of 'Communist' is every colored person in America who believes in civil and political rights and proposes to get them, and every white person who thinks he ought to."
(Mary Church Terrell, 1947)

This quote by Mary Church Terrell, who moved to 1615 S Street in Dupont Circle with her husband Robert Heberton Terrell in 1920, closed an opinion piece by the editors of the Chicago Defender in June 1947. Mary Terrell was a vocal, internationally respected advocate for racial equality who risked being branded a Communist for opposing Jim Crow. 

By this time in her career, Terrell had written for a British magazine about white lawlessness and lynching, and had brought international attention to the horror of convict labor, which she called more oppressive than slavery, and had participated in numerous other civil rights activities and protest efforts. Thanks largely to Mary Terrell's leadership, and her participation in sit-ins and pickets, the Supreme Court ruled in 1953 that racial discrimination by DC businesses serving the public was illegal.

A decade before becoming DC's first black judge in 1902, Robert Terrell had also spoken out against "southern mob rule," and called for "persistent and systemic agitation" to get white northerners to care about the rampant practice of lynching.

In 1893, decades before moving to this house in Dupont Circle, Mary and Robert Terrell became quiet advocates for fair housing as the second African American family to move into LeDroit Park. The couple moved to LeDroit Park just two years after the removal of a fence that had been built around the neighborhood to keep black people out. Many middle-class African American families followed the Terrells to LeDroit Park. The Mary Church Terrell House at 326 T Street NW is listed in the National Register.

Although her house at 326 T Street in LeDroit Park is commonly associated with Mary Church Terrell and her career, the house at 1615 S Street was her home from 1920 until her death in 1954. During this 34-year period, Mary Church Terrell was an influential and active participant in the Civil Rights Movement.

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