Ann Chinn grew up listening to household tales that her grandmother’s sister Barbara Pope had been a broadcast author. However recollections have been quick on particulars; it was so way back. Chinn, 74, solely knew that her great-aunt wrote tales.
The truth is, Barbara Pope, a D.C. native, ranks among the many most gorgeous forgotten American lives. She was, along with being a highschool trainer, an creator of fiction about social change on the flip of the Twentieth century, and her literary voice was celebrated on the worldwide stage by at least W.E.B. Du Bois. Her tales probed relationships amongst women and men, Black and White, with a contemporary voice and a pointy eye for element and character. In her story “The New Lady,” the primary character is a great, industrious and delightful Black girl who asks her husband if she will be able to clerk for him in his legislation workplace, as she did for her father. “The discount was that you’d follow legislation and I take cost of the house,” she tells him, “however neither of us have to be egocentric, and every will name on the opposite for help when wanted.”
However maybe her biggest accomplishment was the stand she took towards racism in transportation almost 50 years earlier than Rosa Parks’s bus trip: In August 1906, Pope boarded a prepare at Union Station and traveled into Virginia, within the course of difficult Virginia’s Jim Crow legislation requiring segregation on trains and streetcars. She quickly gained the assist of Du Bois and his Niagara Motion, a precursor to the NAACP. And her case grew to become one of many first steps alongside the trail to the tip of authorized segregation — main the way in which towards the NAACP’s hallmark 1954 Supreme Court docket victory in Brown v. Board of Training of Topeka.
Not lengthy after her case, she left the general public stage amid private troubles and would grow to be remembered primarily amongst students — extra of a footnote in historical past than a historical past maker. Virtually the one place you’ll find Pope’s work is within the Library of Congress on microfilm. In 2015, nevertheless, literary historian Jennifer Harris wrote a profile of Pope for Legacy, a journal of American girls writers, that aimed to convey Pope again into the highlight. Harris used her archivist investigator expertise to unearth Pope’s fiction and hunt down her story from surviving relations, together with Chinn.
Chinn, who works as government director of the nonprofit Center Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Mission in Jacksonville, Fla., now attracts a connection between the widespread protests following George Floyd’s demise final 12 months and the stand that Pope took greater than a century in the past. In each, Chinn says, “you’re seeing a motion and ways and technique in its formative phases.”
Pope was born in 1854 and grew up in a progressive household in Georgetown’s Black neighborhood. She started a educating profession in 1873 and taught for a 12 months at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. She additionally advocated for reforms within the District’s Coloured Faculty System.
Within the Nineties, Pope, who by no means married, began publishing fiction. Du Bois included a few of her tales in an exhibition he organized for the Paris Exposition of 1900 that offered Black People in their very own phrases and pictures. (A superbly illustrated quantity based mostly on that exhibition got here out in 2019 as “Black Lives 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois on the Paris Exposition.”) In these years, the Black neighborhood of D.C. was divided between Booker T. Washington’s supporters and youthful backers of Du Bois. In opposition to her father’s needs, Pope in 1906 joined the Niagara Motion. She was amongst its first feminine members.
Her pathbreaking prepare trip towards a Virginia scorching springs resort that summer time didn’t begin as a press release. When Pope went to purchase her ticket, she merely wished a peaceable trip, she informed the ticket agent. She “had been aggravated earlier than” by Virginia’s Jim Crow rule and “didn’t need to be aggravated that means” once more, in keeping with her testimony in courtroom data.
She boarded at Union Station and noticed the “coloured” compartment was cramped and its seats confronted backward. She took a seat in the primary compartment as a substitute. After they crossed the Potomac into Virginia, a White conductor got here and mentioned she needed to transfer. She refused. He threatened her with arrest. She refused once more.
When the prepare stopped at Falls Church, Pope was escorted off by constables and detained for hours on the mayor’s workplace. Even after posting bail, she was held for public humiliation within the prepare station, ready for her listening to. The mayor arrange a kangaroo courtroom within the station. Pope was tried for “violating the separate automobile legislation of the State of Virginia” and fined $10 plus courtroom prices.
Two weeks later, on the Niagara Motion’s annual assembly at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., Pope’s case was on the agenda. The group of greater than 50 thought of whether or not an enchantment to overturn her conviction might be a check case. As an interstate traveler, was she topic to Virginia’s Jim Crow statutes? Du Bois had doubts about utilizing the judiciary for social change — simply three years earlier, he had written in “The Souls of Black People” that to position Black People “within the arms of Southern courts was unattainable” — however the group at Harpers Ferry voted to fund Pope’s enchantment within the Virginia circuit courtroom anyway.
Few have been shocked when Pope misplaced her enchantment that October at an Alexandria circuit courtroom, however with Niagara’s authorized assist, she took the case to Virginia’s Supreme Court docket of Appeals. In early 1907, that second enchantment triumphed when the upper courtroom annulled the preliminary judgment. “Which means the NIAGARA MOVEMENT has established that below the current statute Virginia can not advantageous an interstate passenger who refuses to be Jim-Crowed,” Du Bois defined in an April 1907 fundraising letter.
Du Bois included the courtroom’s full assertion along with his letter, and the Niagara Motion adopted up with a civil swimsuit demanding $50,000 in damages. In June 1907, the civil trial opened in D.C. The jury voted in Pope’s favor however awarded her only one penny. Nonetheless, the choice by the Supreme Court docket of the District of Columbia — which had each native and federal jurisdiction till Congress separated these powers in 1973 — confirmed that interstate vacationers may efficiently problem Jim Crow in federal courtroom.
Pope’s fortunes, nevertheless, took a flip for the more serious. She misplaced her job and suffered from insomnia. One night in September 1908, at age 54, she walked out onto Lovers’ Lane, beside Montrose Park in Georgetown, pinned a notice addressed to the coroner to her costume, and hanged herself. The notice mentioned she felt her mind was “on fireplace.”
Jennifer Harris writes that the stigma round suicide helped erase the general public file of Pope’s contributions: “[I]t was thought of rude to debate suicides, so her story — and tales — light into obscurity.” However, historian Deborah Lee, who has studied Pope and the Niagara Motion, says that Pope, together with Du Bois, created “a cornerstone of the Twentieth-century civil rights motion.”
For her half, Ann Chinn is heartened that her great-aunt’s story is coming to mild. “I hope that it’ll encourage researchers and historians to search for others lesser recognized however simply as impactful,” she informed me. “It’s not simply the Malcolm Xs and the Martin Luther Kings. It’s your mom, your father, your trainer — these folks whose names won’t ever go into recorded historical past.”
David A. Taylor is a author in Washington.
Design by Christian Font. Picture enhancing by Dudley M. Brooks.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline might be reached at 1-800-273-8255.