Document 6: Diary Entry about Rosa Lee Ingram
Author: Mary Church Terrell
Date: 21 September 1949
Location: 1949 Daily Desk Diary Appointments Memoranda Reminders, Mary Church Terrell Papers 30/438 Diaries, O. C. A.
Document Type: Autograph Document
This document is from Terrell’s personal diary on the day she delivered a speech to the United Nations on behalf of Rosa Lee Ingram. She wrote in a day planner with each day given a page for writing. Given the significance of speaking to the UN, it is unclear whether the entry spills onto the page dedicated to 22 September 1949, so it is noted where that page begins.
The House Un-American Committee pursued many people referenced in this entry during the McCarthy Era. Terrell wrote in her 11 February 1948 entry, “I am not a communist but I am grateful to people who believe we should have equality of opportunity and all our rights, that both the political parties here have promised us our rights and have lied to us_ Maybe the Communists wd [would] do exactly what the Republicans and Democrats have done.” A curious entry in Terrell’s datebook on 30 April 1952 said that she “tried hard to talk to J. E_ Hoover_ could talk to his assistant but couldn’t reach him.” This begs the question of what she wanted to discuss with him, given her proximity to blacklisted individuals and the risks that posed to her.
A Great Day Present[ed] Petition for Mrs Ingram colored women to Mrs. Myrdal_1 about 70 women present_ Only 4 allowed_ Petition greatly praised.
“Some of us had tears in our eyes_ all of us had lumps in our throats_ women who heard us read the petition said Shirley Graham’s mother2 really can talk_
This was indeed a thrilling experience [sic]
Read petition for Mrs. Ingram individual, and for all colored women on general principles
Mr. Edward Nelson had pronounced Mrs. Katz3 to take to take us [sic] to Lake Success to present the petition was so late we were in a taxi to go when Mrs. Katz spied Nelson, told me to get out of the taxi paid the man something and got into Mr. Nelson’s car_ He thought he was due at 10:30_ All’s well that ends well_ The drive to the General Assembly and then to Lake Success was fine_ Dr. Gene Weltfish4 was with us and was a most congenial companion. I consider her a dear friend_ I am perfectly satisfied with the manner in which I read the address_ Many women complimented and praised me_ One said “There were tears in the eyes of some of us and lumps in the throats of all of us”_ Dr Gene Weltfish and I walked arm in arm most of the time
She and I attended the first meeting of the General Assembly_ The Hearing [had?] given to each one was perfect_ I heard every word_ The Courier took my picture_ many pictures of me were taken
[End of page, begins page delineated for 22 September 1949]
Saw Dr. Dubois about 2, asked him whether NAACP could [illegible] our Committee to Free the Ingram Family from working on the case
Left N.Y at 4:30PM, Home at 8:30
Pouring rain when we reached Washington
Met a Mrs. Stevenson in the Station (N.Y.) saw her on the train as I was leaving. She told me she had taken out citizenship in Nanking China_ She took my bag off the train and watched me while I got into the taxi to go home_ I told her colored people have to wait while all the white people have been saved_ Phyllis,7 Thomas and Mrs. Wells8 came down to see me when I got home_ P9 gave me a beautiful blue blouse and Thomas10 a lovely shawl_ P and I gave T,11 socks, shirts, shorts between us [sic]
Transcribed by Natalia Shevin
1 Alva Myrdal, UN Assistant Secretary General in the Department of Social Affairs. She cautioned Terrell and her delegation that UN agencies seldom reviewed cases on behalf of individuals (Charles H. Martin, “Race, Gender, and Southern Justice: The Rosa Lee Ingram Case,” The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 29, No. 3 (July, 1985), 263).
2Shirley Graham (1896-1977) was a Black author, composer, and activist. She earned a B.A. from Oberlin College in 1934, and a masters in 1935. W. E. B. D Bois was her second husband. Her mother, Etta Graham Bell, was a leader in the AME Church, along with her father, Reverend David A. Graham (“DuBois, Shirley Graham (1896-1977) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed,” Web address, accessed 27 July 2015). It is unknown whether Shirley Graham’s mother was present.
3 Maude White Katz, member of the Communist Party and administrative secretary of the Ingram Committee (Charles H. Martin, “Race, Gender, and Southern Justice: The Rosa Lee Ingram Case”, 261).
4 Gene Weltfish (1902-1980) was an anthropologist and historian at Columbia University. Her position was terminated after she refused to answer Senator Joseph McCarthy and attorney Roy Cohn’s interrogation about whether she was a communist.
5 William Alphaeus Hunton was a scholar and activist. His grandfather participated in John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. Like Terrell, he participated in direct actions to rid Washington D.C. of Jim Crow. He was the Education Director for the Council on African Affairs in 1943, and in 1951 was sentenced to six months in prison after the House Un-American Activities (HUAC) labeled the organization a communist front. He spent significant time in Ghana and Zambia in the later years of his life. (William Alphaeus Hunton papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Web address, accessed 13 July 2015).
6 Likely Paul Robeson (1898-1976), a brilliant cultural worker, performer and activist, who was also pursued by HUAC.
8 Mrs. Wells could either be a relative of H.G. Wells, the prolific English author who wrote the preface to A Colored Woman in a White World, or a relative of Ida Barnett Wells, a contemporary Black feminist activist of Terrell’s.
10 This is likely Thomas Jr., the son of Thomas Church, Terrell’s brother. Terrell adopted Church’s daughter, Mary Louise.