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In the Spirit of Local Activism and Getting Involved

by Jasmaine Talley, Curator of Manuscripts



The staff at the Amistad Research Center continues the project of arranging and describing the papers of sixteen African American women and highlighting their contributions and influences throughout their communities, and nationally and internationally. Last month, we focused on Sybil Morial and the formation of the Louisiana League of Good Government in response to Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation, and the Louisiana League of Women Voters as a form of local activism to help people register to vote and become civically engaged. This blog post will similarly focus on areas of local activism and other ways of helping, particularly in the area of elevating African Americans and other traditionally underrepresented groups.


Dorothy Yepez was an artist, gallery owner and teacher who was involved in many community organizations. One of these organizations was the Community League of West 150th Street, Inc. in New York City, where she served as consultant and director of theater field trips for students. The organization provided arrangements to present a series of professionally staged productions for children at RKO Fordham Theaters in New York City. The productions were put on during school hours for children who otherwise might not have the opportunity to see them.


Jessie Covington Dent, a talented classical pianist and community leader, used her influence to help increase the number of minority musicians both in major symphony orchestras and in teaching

positions. She was also ultimately instrumental in the desegregation of orchestra concerts in New Orleans altogether.

Jessie Covington Dent wrote a letter to the president of the New Orleans Philharmonic-Symphony Society expressing her disappointment at an act of racial prejudice toward an African-American award recipient during a performance.
Jessie Covington Dent wrote a letter to the president of the New Orleans Philharmonic-Symphony Society expressing her disappointment at an act of racial prejudice toward an African-American award recipient during a performance.

And finally Mary Morehead Richardson, a fashion designer who was born in North Carolina but later relocated to New York City, opened her home to young people in the arts and supported itinerant professionals with food and housing when they needed to be in Harlem for rehearsals or auditions. Among the artists were Anne Wiggins Brown (Gershwin’s first Bess in Porgy and Bess), and the soprano vocalist Joy Simpson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Portrait of Mary Morehead Richardson
Portrait of Mary Morehead Richardson

These examples represent just a small picture of what it means to reach back and step up. These women used their talent and influence to engage in local activism, help others and leave a lasting contribution. As the project continues, Amistad staff will continue to highlight these achievements.


This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MH-245560-OMS-20]. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


If you would like to support the funding of the Amistad Research Center’s Women’s Project please donate via Amistad’s Network for Good.

Institute of Museum and Library Services

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