Skip to main content

tv   Dorothy Ferebee  CSPAN  January 30, 2016 11:15am-12:02pm EST

11:15 am
fairly proper women -- dorothy ferebee fought for health care improvements for african-americans throughout the 20th century. the massachusetts historical society hosted this 45 minute event. that you for joining us this evening. i work for the massachusetts historical society. i want to thank you for taking time out of your holiday andivities to join us battling the increasing bad weather. as a quick note, the massachusetts historical society is a nonprofit organization. we rely on membership support and contributions. if you enjoyed this program, and are not a member, i hope you will become a member or make a contribution. this diane kiesel is an acting justice in the state supreme court.
11:16 am
she sits in the domestic violence court. she spent 10 years as a prosecutor. she is an adjunct professor of law. before graduating from law school, she was a journalist in washington dc where she one copy number of prizes. tonight, she will be speaking about dorothy ferebee, a civil rights activist. although dr. fairly grew up in virginia -- although dr. dorothy ferebee grew up in virginia, she attended simmons college. a number of you are from simmons college. thank you for coming. [laughter] she became the president of the national council of negro women. she is vice presidents and congress. she was a household name, but
11:17 am
today is almost forgotten. discuss her will and her and a national context. thank you for coming. [applause] that lovely for introduction. can you all hear me? ok. thank you all for coming. on june 11, 1963, president kennedy appeared on national television to ask congress to enact landmark civil rights legislation. now remember, this was not the you have towhere fill eight news cycle for 24 hours. when the president of united states came on tv in 1963, it was important. what he said was follows -- was as follows, we are confronted with a moral issue.
11:18 am
it is as clear as the american constitution. -- if an american, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch at a restaurant open to the public, and not send his children to the best schools available, if you cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, then who among us could be content to have the color of his skin changed? who among us would be content with councils of delay? fairly -- dr. dorothy ferebee who is a topic of my talk this evening, was an african-american woman born in 1898 in norfolk, virginia. she died in washington dc in 1980. during her lifetime, she suffered all the indignities described by president kennedy that night. but dorothy would never cash was
11:19 am
never -- was never content with counseled delayed. to devoted her lifetime righting the wrongs articulated by president kennedy. in fact, jfk would call on her the very summer to come to the garden and -- rose help her win over legislators to his civil rights bill. by that summer, dorothy ferebee was the most recognizable black woman in america. in the 1920's, she started the first black settlement house in washington dc. during the great depression, she led one of the most famous health programs in history, the mississippi health project, through which you brought medical care to 50,000 destitute 15,000oppers -- destitute sharecroppers. ame who have never seen
11:20 am
toothbrush, let alone a medical doctor. on the eve of what work you, she -- she the cap out for women.elite group of in the 1950's, she was president of the national council of negro women and use that platform to .dvise presidents in the 1960's, she went to selma to join exploding right campaign. she traveled to the third world advisorhat decade as an to the state department. she brings best health care practices to florence service workers working in third world countries. in 1970's, by then old and ill, she nonetheless led a delegation
11:21 am
-- mexicork city city. she was determined to make washington dc location for safe access to abortion. she wrote a syndicated column and just about every night of her live, she stood at podiums like this, and churches, schools, hotel ballrooms, libraries, and municipal buildings, to bring her message to the public. when dorothy fairly in september of 1980, the washington post published a glowing tribute to her. the editors said, it took more than a little courage to break down the barriers of sex and color. dorothy ferebee new how to do so with a marvelous blend of compassion and class.
11:22 am
and then her story dies with her. why and to understand who she was and what motivated her, we need to recall another famous speech from the same year president kennedy spoke. on august 28, 1953, the reverend dr. martin luther king stood before the lincoln memorial and uttered the immortal line that began with the phrase "i have a dream." at the turn of the 20th century, dorothy had a dream, too. as a child, playing on her grandfather's of his elegant victorian mansion in norfolk, virginia, she dreamed of becoming a doctor. whenever a bird fell out of a tree, her grandmother would give her little strips of material from her sewing kit and she would rescue the little bird by
11:23 am
making a little slate for his broken foot or wayne. -- or wing. door the's dream of becoming a dream of dorothy's becoming a doctor was a pipe dream. the only school dorothy could hope to attend in norfolk, virginia, was the cumberland school where the children were trained for manual labor. the city of boston becomes the place where dorothy ferebee is able to turn her childhood dream into a reality. dorothy was one of the talented 10 -- that was the phrase coined to describe. dubois
11:24 am
the leaders of the race. but her family did not start there. dorothy -- paternal grandfather, a man named richard page, known to his contemporaries as rgl, was born into slavery in 1846 as were his three brothers. his father was most certainly white. his mother and maternal aunt worked in a master's home as a house servant. unt his mother died when he was a child. summer of 1855, a yellow fever epidemic decimates the white population of nor folk and leae the city in turmoil -- the city of turmoil. a white man died in the
11:25 am
epidemic. the remnants of her family, meaning dorothy's grandfather , they are allrs terrified that they are going to be separated and sold. so they decide one by one to make a run for it. unts joins runaway slaves to take them to philadelphia. with the help of the underground railroad, she makes it to boston. isothy's great uncle thomas the next to make a break for it. followed by her grandfather rgl. they paid their way here. is 10 years old. stows. does -- he just on the ship.
11:26 am
their story is told by william still that you can see at the african american museum on joy street. he was the secretary to the vigilant society and kept contemporary accounts of runaways'stories. knowry in the state will -- slavery in this state was abolished in 1873. in boston, the runaway pages left on beacon hill at 62 people meet -- this was an area well known to .bolitionists the african-american meetinghouse was there. lord garrison made fiery speeches against slavery. --is very interesting
11:27 am
george, the house they were living, was a writer, a lawyer, a politician, and a judge. he was a trustee of the boston public library, and for a time, he was senator charles sumner's law partner. mrs. hillard was an active abolitionist working with sumner, harry beecher stowe -- to help pave the way for runaway slaves to come to boston along with the poet longfellow. hillard became united states commissioner. commissioners were responsible under the 1850's fugitive slave law to return runaway slaves to their rightful owners in the south. interestingly enough, well, hillard was doing this by day, and goes home by night, and half the page family was living in his attic>
11:28 am
. his hearts how much was into abiding by the slave law. rgl lived with, the hillard's affiliate event of the civil war and taught a trade. he started to mingle with boston's african-american elite. at the 12thife baptist church. he married her in 1868. she was the sister of george ruffin, the first african-american man to graduate from harvard law school. was well known. after the war, rgl returns to norco, becomes a member of the virginia's assembly, and goes on to become a lawyer, banker, and very wealthy fellow. he and his wife and my children,
11:29 am
page wasom, florence dorothy ferebee's mother. were graduates of hampton institute. her father was a good friend of booker t. washington. they had three children, the youngest during -- being dorothy. it was natural after the family possible long historical connection to boston that precocious little dorothy get out of the colored school and go somewhere where she can be .ducated area she did no she went to boston girls' school. she was an amazing scholar there. from there, she went on to simmons college. when dorothy lived in boston, she lived with the remnants of ruffingh and family --
11:30 am
from girls high in 1915, she went to simmons college and then graduated from tufts medical school and graduated from college with honors in 1924. while at simmons she puts her tell into the civil rights -- toe into the civil rights water. she writes the most amazing essay about lynching. so amazing, it made the papers. colored girl writes on lynching, the headline says. she was a sophomore. she asked in this essay, how alive with thee cause of free to around them, at the same time, her americanism, her ideal of justice and mercy, has been shamefully besmirched
11:31 am
upon her own free soil by lynching? pen, no hand is raised in protest against them. those are pretty strong words from a kid. and put them in context, which you wrote these, the espionage act had just been enacted. they board the use of disloyal, profane, abusive language about with up to 20tes years in prison. in that context, this essay, which is harshly critical of the united states and its lack of doing anything about lynching, during more times, it was particularly courageous. that was dorothy.
11:32 am
1924eft boston for good in and moved to washington dc to intern at the segregated friedman hospital in washington dc. it was racism that brought her there. applications for internships required a photograph, and 's photo showed a base that was black. friedman hospital is the only hospital that would take her, even if she graduated with honors from medical school. was then known as howard university hospital. until 1950, a trend every rican-american -- half of all african-american doctors were trended howard. she stay there until 1968. she was an obstetrician
11:33 am
gynecologist. she taught at the medical school. she opened a private practice out of her home. she read the howard university student health service. and she delivered african-american children throughout the city. health service delivery was segregated in that highly segregated city. you ask an african-american senior citizen today, anybody over 85 years old living in washington dc, if they know ofothy ferebee, the chances them saying, sure, she delivered me. she made waves. she was articulate, attractive, always in a tailored suit or dress, with a matching handbag shoes, and a fresh corsage on her lapel. she never met a podium she did not love. she started her lifelong speaking career in a voice that
11:34 am
sounded like a cross between eleanor roosevelt and rosie kennedy. she spoke often an early and the d.c. public schools. on airst time she climbed soapbox, it was to lecture about one of her favorite top 6 -- sex education. this is dorothy -- this was in the 1920's. the 1920's, it was illegal to advocate contraception in public. the rest of the medical profession with onboard with this. the american medical association did not endorse birth-control until 1937. some of this that dorothy and a little bit of hot water because she also talked a lot about the ,eed for passing on good genes and this got her tarred with the
11:35 am
eugenics movement. not a 1920's, it was dirty word it became after the holocaust and hitler's. dorothy married a from howard university in 1930. . movie star handsome dentist he was educated at the columbia school of dentistry. aspired to be an artist. a year later, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. one for him and one for me. [laughter] their marriage was always rocky. it is hard to understand why, other than the fact, it must've
11:36 am
been very difficult to be mr. dr. dorothy ferebee because she clearly was the rating star -- because she clearly was the reigning star in the family. her children were out of control and her husband found solace in other women. daughter died at the age of 18 years old from a botched abortion, her long, ailing marriage died along with her daughter. her husband blamed her for their daughter passed at, -- her husband blamed her for their daughter's death. it is hard to put your finger on where dorothy was most
11:37 am
successful and most famous. she followed the iconic mayor mccollough the film -- mary mcloud bethune. she became a familiar face in the halls of congress, lobbying for federal money to build black hospitals, improve black schools, and you force lawmakers to open all the doors and mainstream life directed americans. she always pushed for federal bill -- for a federal bill to end lynching in this country, but was never successful in doing that. -- shea familiar face was a familiar face to eleanor roosevelt, pat nixon, and to the president. to truman, lyndon johnson,
11:38 am
truman, and president kennedy. grewcivil rights movement more radical in the 1960's and early 1970's, dorothy's influence waned and her ideals outdated. dorothy had many adventures and took many brave stands, all of which are recounted in the book. i would like to read to you a small part from the book about really, what i think was her most bravest endeavor and are , and that was one of her trips to mississippi in 1936. thatt to remind you all this isn't today's hipster mississippi where young people go down there to listen to blues and drink craft beers and stay
11:39 am
in boutique hotels. this is your grandfather's mississippi. senator stoodthe as a barrier to any civil rights legislation. his father actually led a lynch party and lynched one of his own sharecroppers and a woman who was his girlfriend, torturing both of them and making sure the man had to watch as his loved one died first. awful, have been really he actually stood trial for it, which was almost unheard of. of course, he got acquitted. as lyndon johnson once said, there's america, the south, and then mississippi. -- dorothy and mississippi
11:40 am
the posters went up in churches, on trees, and along rotting walls of one from schoolhouses all over the mississippi delta. peopleed to the colored and written in large letters, as the coloredcing people. dr. dorothy ferebee and her staff of trained colored assistance who would treat the sick of their race. the mississippi health product was coming to town and lord knows, the colored people of oliver county needed all the help they could get in the summer of 1936. but the rest of the population clawed their way out of the hadt depression that
11:41 am
engulfed a decade, blacks in the delta still suffer the same miserable this and they always had with no end insight. most african-americans in the tenantorked the land as farmers or sharecroppers, i can to modern-day slavery. a grandamilies aren't sum of $50 a year, sometimes less. the farm workers lived on the most fertile ground on earth, but their diet contained almost no fruits or vegetables, because the land owners refused to allow them to use the valuable acreage to cultivate small gardens. wholesome foods want sold to plantation commissaries. the only stores that would only 'rcept their salaries weren t good.
11:42 am
the health team about more than the disease. believe in superstitions grannis -- believeighty god in superstitions ran as deep as almighty god. tea bags on your eyes will cure the common cold. some mothers had no idea how old their own children were. others did not know their own names, first or last. dorothy's nursing assistant road, we have the opportunity again and again to strengthen our conclusion that children and mississippi don't smile. south in the deep 1930's were prohibited from voting, eating in restaurants, urging him water fountains reserved for whites. the children were barred from the parks and swimming pools. african-americans constituted 50% of the state of mississippi,
11:43 am
residents ofe 8000 oliver county, but they had no role in mainstream life. they crowded into shacks on plantations, or slums on the edge of town. they sat in the back of the bus if they could afford the fair, and had no chance of jobs providing a decent living. a black man called the white man, sir. and the white man responded by calling him, boy. some dissented from the slaves who once worked the same fields. the's clinic was the first -- firsty's clinic was the place for an ailing stomach. some of their children never used a toothbrush and cried because their jobs were rotting with dk. decay.ing with
11:44 am
their anxiety grew. their sponsor, the prestigious sorority, whose members included the college-educated of the african-american elite, had asked its members for $1000 to send dorothy to neighboring homes county, mississippi for the first time in 1935. the black press saw this as a triumph. it has been rough going. the land owners pulled up the welcome mat as soon as dorothy arrived, refusing to allow their workers near the medical team. it was not until she drove from farm to farm to explain she was there to provide health care, not organizing a union, or advocate for civil rights, that all but one owner relented. even then, the owners not let their workers off their land or out of their sight.
11:45 am
dorothy was forced to bring the clinic to the patient's by setting up shop directly on the cotton field under the watchful eyes of overseers. now, a year later, in his office, not far from the old white washed courthouse, the chief officer for help and oliver county had his own headache over dorothy's imminent arrival. he stuck them everywhere he couldn't make sure they got into the hands of the preachers. holmes all about county and self-pity for dorothy when he received her letter telling him she wanted to try again, this time in bolivar. he vowed to help. he convinced mississippi officials all the way to jackson that the clinic was as
11:46 am
beneficial for landowners as it was for the black sharecroppers. from his perspective, the arrival of the colored medical team was the best thing that happened to the country since fdr. land owners were blighted by bigotry to realize that healthy field hands make more profits. and allowing them to be treated by one of their own meant local white doctors did not have to deal with them. all he had to do was make them see the lights. he was a longtime southerner and man over himself. lived on theld grove, one of the finest plantations in the delta. producingertile acres cotton, he was a wealthy man. before the civil war, slaves waited on his ancestors, and in a year since, paid black servants. they worked the great, white house, and sharecroppers plowed the land.
11:47 am
and discreetly use the "n" word. as a young physician before world war i, supported by he engage in research to step out yellow fever. out yellow fever. on the dr.'s desk, neither look up to the rich, or down to the poor. 17, 1936, theust entire country was parched. given that dorothy was likely to arrive in the middle of the heat wave, he planned to be the first to invite her to his property for a tall glass of iced tea and he made sure were that around.
11:48 am
if that did not set an example for other owners, nothing would. meanwhile, in washington dc, where dorothy lived, practice medicine, and taught at howard, she was busy cajoling her husband, friends, and volunteers to lend their cars to carry the team and supplies. before the new deal public works project went full swing, mississippi was so poor, there were few miles of paved roads. as well as last-minute cancellations from her medical team, some because their family feared for their lives. dorothy was close to losing her mind. similar naysaying the year before when she was es county, she hom
11:49 am
stated, i am not discouraged, i will do everything i can single-handedly, if necessary. as it turned out, she did not have to go alone. gathereder health team in washington on a hot july morning, loaded up their cars, and drove in a caravan to mississippi, and into history. thank you. [applause] >> if you have any questions about dorothy or the book, or anything, i would be happy to take a few minutes to answer them. yes. the obituary i described when i --ned my talk in the old washington -- the whole time i read it, i kept saying, who is this lady? i want to write about her then.
11:50 am
is --was not as much as there was not as much interest. i was young and unexperienced. my life went on another pack. i went to law school. a textbook on domestic violence a couple of years ago, i thought, you know, i think i can do this, but i googled her and thought someone had written about her already. and when no one else had, i decided i was going to do it. it took seven years. between working and full-time -- between working full-time and writing full-time -- yes? -- i am aoing to say member of the sorority, she was very well thought of when i was talking to someone today that i thewhen to hear you speak,
11:51 am
first thing the friend of mine said is, we should tell the sorority. i think it is a moment of pride. as someone who teaches history, and teaches about the good doctors that went into mississippi in the 1960's, there is a book about that. pha kappa alpha was proud to say we did this in the 1930's. they were very aware the 1930's that people's help had a lot to do with their ability to survive. were also aware -- by the 1940's with truman, he is hanging that health is a human right. they are very conscious of all of that is a are working. >> one of the people who went with dorothy was a woman named
11:52 am
marjorie holloman. federalmarried to a judge. her sons, who i spoke with, is a federal judge in new york now, and she was a beautiful writer, and she became the secretary, if you will, of the health project. she picked up on exactly what you said. she later wrote in a retrospect in the 1970's that by going to mississippi in the 1930's, dr. dorothy ferebee and her team were the stocking horse is an foreshadowed the freedoms summers in the voting rights movement that came 20, 30 years down the line. she was a pioneer in so many ways. think, being the most important. you have a questions? >> i am looking for to reading your book.
11:53 am
did she keep journals or diaries? and were her papers collected ?ussia mar does she hav the she have living family? papers are at howard university. there are also other papers of -- the the national archive of black women's history ncaw andabout of the those of her records during the four years she was the president , but also, she was on the board for many years. there are a lot of records there. interestingly enough, does dorothy keep journals? no. as a matter fact, in 17 feet of papers, there is not one word about her marriage, her children
11:54 am
, her friends, her mom -- the only journal she ever kept was 150 pages journal which is a gold mine. mcc she accompanied mary loud bethune to the founding of the united nations in the spring of 1945 in san francisco. by the way, she got to go on that because she was mary's personal physician, and that is how they became very close, and soon that anointed her to follow her. she jumped on the train in new york and was so excited. she did not bring a pad with her. score an oldo still no notebook from someone -- an old notebook from someone.
11:55 am
she follows the train all the way to san francisco. she is amazing. she is sitting there the night someone holds up a newspaper signaling b end of the war -- signaling the end of the war in europe. she is hobnobbing with roosevelt. when someone is speaking in french, persimmon's college french comes in very handy. she takes notes and flawless french. the long answer to your brief question, if she did not keep any personal journals or diaries. everything had to be pieced together by inference. her daughter died at the age of 18 years old. her sun only lived another year after she lived, the twin, he died of 51 years old pancreatic cancer. his wife died of abdominal cancer a few years later. ofhad four children, two
11:56 am
whom died in adulthood. to our allies in their 50's. alive in their 50's. they invited me into their attics were i found photo books that are priceless. they were quite wonderful. has someerebee anotherrelationship -- dorothy had a distance relationship to dorothy ferebee. she did not know how they were connected. i did not know how that connection worked. anyone else? the lady in the back? i will stand up.
11:57 am
i am doing research on african american women who should be in the history books and art. one of the things i have been i have friends in african-american church in day -- so for women's they are doing research and we do this program together on women stay. the first time we did that, one of the women came to me after and said, nobody ever told us. >> that is an important story and an amazing story. to think that dorothy ferebee defied all odds is to become a is delivering babies, teaching medical students,
11:58 am
running her own private practice, and by the way, when you were a young doctor in howard in the 1920's, you also had to ride the ambulance at night, that was a part of your job. doing all this and then she has time to speak out every night on wanting justice. this woman is unbelievable. look at her, she is beautiful. she is always dressed nice and in fashion. there is nothing this woman can't do. unfortunately, she gets attacked a little bit because her children ended up having a bad time of it. think about this, and i really struggled with this in the book say that't necessarily men are failures when they are out saving the world and their children and even up not so great -- and their children end
11:59 am
up not so great. i think dorothy takes a harder hit on this because she is a woman. died, theefore she national endowment for humanities put on a program african-american women in particular, and for dorothy, she can barely walk now, she is congestive heart failure, she can barely be heard, but she gets her self to the podium, and is asked the question, what is in the hardest prejudice to overcome? being black or being a woman? without missing a beat, she says, being a woman. buti'm quoting it exactly, women have had such a hard road of it, they have no confidence anymore. they think they can't do anything. nothing made her crazier than the idea that that was so important to her. her granddaughter in law was a $14,000ayer and needed
12:00 pm
for one of her first cellos. without asking dorothy, because she never would have asked, dorothy volunteered this money for her because it was so important for her to support her daughter -- her granddaughter-in-law gift because she always wanted women to be doing something. that was so important to her. >> thank you. we will answer more questions in the lobby. >> thank you all. [applause] [indiscernible] thank you. what a great audience. >> you're watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend, on c-span 3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history.
12:01 pm
>> william lee, known as billy lee was george washington's personal slave. washington granted billy lee land and freedom in his will. next, author james thompson discusses his theory explaining why washington may have taken this action. the daughters of the american revolution hosted this one-hour event. >> today, we are pleased to have jim thompson discussing his new book, who is billy lee, george washington's mulatto man. george washington acquired, in his words, my mulatto man, in 1767. he was well-known known to washington's staff, including lafayette. thompson presents an analysis of washington's complex relationship with billy lee and discusses a deeper relationship between the two. mr

19 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on