Alison M. Parker

May 10, 2021

Unceasing Militant

The Life of Mary Church Terrell

University of North Carolina Press 2021

Dr. Alison M. Parker’s new book Unceasing Militant: The Life of Mary Church Terrell (University of North Carolina Press, 2020) explores the life of civil rights activist and feminist, Mary Church Terrell. Born into slavery at the end of the Civil War, Terrell (1863-1954) became one of the most prominent activists of her time -- working at the intersection of rights for women and African Americans, anti-colonialism, criminal justice reform, and beyond. Her career stretched from the late nineteenth century to the civil rights movement of the 1950s -- and she was able to see the result of the NAACP’s efforts in Brown v. Board of Education before she died. The first president of the National Association of Colored Women and a founding member of the NAACP, Terrell collaborated closely with other leaders such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Mary McLeod Bethune -- but she also was unafraid to disagree on principle and political strategy. 

Unceasing Militant, the first full-length academic biography of Terrell, integrates her extraordinary public activism with her romantic, reproductive, parental, economic, and mental health challenges. Understanding what she called the double handicap of sexism and racism, Terrell offered a nuanced and intersectional Black feminist political theory. Terrell insisted upon African American women’s “full humanity and equality” and -- honoring that legacy -- Alison Parker deftly weaves resources of all kinds, including privately held letters and diaries, to provide an account of a woman dedicated to changing the culture and institutions that perpetuated inequality throughout the United States -- but also a breathing, loving, nuanced woman navigating life.

Alison M. Parker is Richards Professor of American History and Chair of the History of the Department at the University of Delaware. She researches and teaches at the intersections of gender, race, disability, citizenship and the law in U.S. history. Her earlier works include two books, Articulating Rights: Nineteenth- Century American Women on Race, Reform and the State (Cornell University Press, 2010) and Purifying America: Women, Cultural Reform, and Pro-Censorship Activism, 1873-1933 (Northern Illinois University Press,1997). Her most recent public facing scholarship is the 2020 New York Times op-ed, “When White Women Wanted a Monument to Black Mammies.”

Madeline Jones assisted with this podcast.

Susan Liebell is an associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Why Diehard Originalists Aren’t Really Originalists recently appeared in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and “Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” was published in the Journal of Politics (July 2020). Email her comments at or tweet to @SusanLiebell.

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