Mary Church Terrell was born September 23, 1863. She was raised by her parents, two former slaves, in a time period where racism was rampant everywhere. Her father was shot in the head and left to die and a close friend of hers was lynched by a white mob. After graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio, she taught a black secondary school in Washington and Wilberforce College in Ohio. She was an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and even became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women. After witnessing racism and discrimination throughout much of her life she had reached a boiling point and on October 10, 1906 she delivered her famous speech “What It Means to be Colored in Capitol of The U.S.” at the United Women’s Club in Washington, D.C. In her speech, she showed many examples of how African Americans were oppressed and also successfully brought out emotion in her audience.
(Figure 1 Shows the cover of "Fight On!", a biography about Mary Church Terrell. The cover shows her protesting to end discrimination.)
In Terrell’s speech she uses many examples that support the thesis of her speech. She explains how other races are acknowledged as regular humans while African Americans are treated as lepers. She describes how other races are allowed to enter a restaurant or hotel while African Americans are tossed out of such establishments; even if they have more than enough money to pay the bill. Terrell also describes how mistreated African Americans are when it comes to the business field. She goes into detail about how African Americans are refused work because of their race and how if they get the job they are not treated equal to their white counterpart even if they have the same education and are in the same field of work. In the beginning of her speech she does a great job in using her own personal experiences to show the great divide between African Americans and white people that is even seen in the capital of the U.S. She shows the contrast of the title of Washington to what really happens when she says, “For fifteen years I have resided in Washington, and while it was far from being a paradise for colored people when I first touched these shores it has been doing its level best ever since to make conditions for us intolerable.”
Terrell is also successful in bringing out emotion in her audience. Throughout her speech Terrell uses the every man appeal to show that she is also being affected by the racism that is happening because she too is African American. This is shown with her constant use of “I” in her examples to show that it could happen to her, if it hasn’t already. She also uses strong language to bring about emotion in her audience. She uses words like “hateful”, “oppression”, “hideous”, and “persecution” to not only show her anger towards the situation but to also make the audience more aware of how serious the problem is.
As one can see, Mary Church Terrell used a mixture of many rhetoric tools in her speech to address the problems of racism. With the help of her language and her appeal to every day people; she was able to get her point across at a more personal level with the audience. To this day her speech is still seen as one of the greatest to be delivered in African American history.
Terrell, Mary Church. “What It Means to be Colored in Capital of the U.S.” United Women’s
Club, Washington, D.C. 10 Oct. 1906. American Rhetoric. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.
"Mary Church Terrell." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Web. 04 Oct. 2010."Fight On! : Mary Church Terrell's Battle for Integration (Plymouth Staff Choices)." Plymouth District Library.
Web. 04 Oct. 2010.