Mary White Ovington was born April 11, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York a few days before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Her parents, members of the Unitarian Church, were supporters of women's rights and had been involved in the anti-slavery movement.
Mary (or May, as her family called her in childhood) was born into an affluent family, the third of four children.
|Radcliffe College / Harvard Annex|
|W.E. B. DuBois|
|Founding members of the Niagara Movement|
|Asa Philip Randolph|
William English Walling
|Aftermath of Springfield Riot|
Many people responded to the call that eventually led to the formation of the National Negro Committee that held its first meeting in New York on May 31 and June 1, 1909. By May, 1910 the National Negro Committee and attendants, at its second conference, organized a permanent body known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Ovington was appointed as its executive secretary.
|Fanny Garrison Villard|
|Ida B. Wells-Barnett|
Although she was a radical socialist, and a member of the Socialist party, Ovington subordinated her leftist political opinions to the needs of the NAACP and the goal of racial integration. Moreover she criticized the socialist movement for being male-dominated and called for women to unite to destroy “masculine despotism.” At the NAACP she attempted to bring black women into positions of power and influence and worked closely with friends in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). During the later stages of the campaign for women’s suffrage, as chair of the board of the NAACP, Ovington encouraged the Woman’s Party and other voting-rights organizations to include black women and pressured them not to give in to any compromise that would disenfranchise half of the black voters.
After the war, Ovington served the NAACP as board member, executive secretary and chairman. The NAACP fought a long legal battle against segregation and racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, voting and transportation. They appealed to the Supreme Court to rule that several laws passed by southern states were unconstitutional, and won three important judgments between 1915-1923 concerning voting rights and housing. Members of the organization were physically attacked by white racists.
Ovington retired as a board member of the NAACP in 1947, ending 38 years of service with the organization. She moved to Massachusetts to live with a sister.