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Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Among the most outstanding African-American educators of the post-reconstruction era of the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century were Dr. Anna Julia Cooper and Ms. Nannie Helen Burroughs. During this extremely difficult and rocky period for African-Americans these dedicated sisters were confronted with the arduous tasks of struggling for racial uplift, economic justice and social equality.

Nannie Helen Burroughs became a school founder, educator and civil rights activist. She identified African-American teachers such as Anna Julia Cooper as important role models. She attended public schools in Washington, D.C., graduated with honors in 1896, studied business in 1902, and received an honorary M.A. degree from Eckstein-Norton University in Kentucky in 1907. 

An early pupil and eventual colleague of Cooper, Nannie Helen Burroughs devoted her energies to the uplift of African people. Burroughs was a brilliant and powerful orator. Both in the press and on the lecture circuit she denounced lynchings, racial segregation, employment discrimination and the European colonization of Africa. According to Burroughs’ biographer Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Burroughs’ “verbal attacks were coupled with calls to action. During World War I, criticism of President Woodrow Wilson’s silence on lynching led to her being placed under government surveillance. Her uncompromising stand on racial equality included a woman’s right to vote and equal economic opportunity.”

Nannie Helen Burroughs lived a full and accomplished life, dying on May 20, 1961 at the ripe age of eighty-two.