In her address to the South Carolina Council on Human Relations in 1962, longtime activist, educator, and author Margaret Callender McCulloch beseeched her listeners to secure equality in American society through the power of education: “Simple goodness is not enough. We need informed, enlightened, complex goodness. We need to study and think.” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Margaret McCulloch, qtd. in Women and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965 (Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon). Studying and thinking were critical to McCulloch’s life and her decades-long pursuit of improved race relations in Memphis, Tennessee, and the nation at large.
This week’s collection from 1967, one of the earliest to arrive at the Amistad Research Center, focuses on the prolific career of Margaret C. McCulloch. The collection, subsequently augmented with additional material in 1975, includes correspondence, articles, memoirs, poems and photographs that trace the career of a prominent teacher and activist. Though McCulloch may be remembered for her impassioned work towards equality through her tireless work to tackle employment discrimination, unfairly segregated schools, and lack of business opportunities for African Americans and more, her contribution to scholarship must not be overlooked, too. Her papers remain an invaluable trove of insight into the challenges and triumphs of social change agents leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.
If studying and thinking were the keys to transforming American society, McCulloch certainly played her part as both a student and a teacher. McCulloch grew up in Orange, New Jersey, where she attended Miss Beard’s School before pursuing her B.A. at Wellesley College and later graduate work at the University of North Carolina, Columbia Teachers College, and the University of Virginia. She later taught for a combined twenty years at Penn School, a Quaker school in South Carolina and LeMoyne College (now LeMoyne-Owen College) in Tennessee. In her time as an educator, McCulloch published scholarly articles in well known journals including The Journal of Negro Education and The North Carolina Historical Review, on a variety of topics. Paramount among her scholarly work, however, was her book, Fearless Advocates of the Right: The Life and Times of Francis Julius LeMoyne, M.D. 1798-1879. McCulloch’s papers include her research for the LeMoyne biography, as well as a typescript for another unpublished book entitled Can This Be Me? A Study in Slavery and Freedom on a Georgia Plantation, which is a memoir of a freedwoman, Mary Eliza West, edited by McCulloch.
Beyond documenting her work as an educator, the McCulloch papers also trace McCulloch’s work as an activist and historian in the middle of the 20th century during a period of heightened racial tensions in America. In 1941, the same year McCulloch’s monograph on LeMoyne was published and she was appointed a trustee of LeMoyne College, she began her activist work as a volunteer social worker in Nashville, Tennessee, for the Department of Race Relations of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America. Working under the direction of Dr. George E. Haynes at the Department, McCulloch was largely responsible for the founding of the South Street Community Center in Nashville.
She later worked for the Department of Race Relations of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and was the founder of the Opportunity Foundation Corporation, which provides financial support to educational, health, and social services in Memphis.
Disclaimer: Images from the Margaret McCulloch papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.