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Overlooked No More: Lucy Diggs Slowe, Scholar Who Persisted Against Racism and Sexism

  • October 01, 2020

With her catalog of firsts, Slowe became a catalyzing force for social justice on Howard’s campus. As dean, she inaugurated an annual women’s dinner. Men were cordially invited, but only as observers confined to the balcony. The only other men were waiters.

The dinner “quickly became a longstanding tradition that celebrated what we would today call Black Girl Magic,” Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, a Grinnell College scholar who is working on a book about Slowe, said in an email.

“Howard women gathered in a joy and solidarity made evident in their singing, speeches, stunts and marching,” she added.

These women, she wrote, were encouraged to live “not in the shadows of white people or Black men, but in the light of their own selves and possibilities.”

Slowe encouraged Howard women to bypass obvious academic specialties in favor of more adventurous courses of study, and steered them toward extracurricular activities that fostered responsibility. Writing in the Black periodical Opportunity in 1937, a month before her death, she accused Black colleges of prolonging female students’ “infancy” by failing to nurture them toward independence.

Education was not her only focus. In a national radio address in 1937, Slowe denounced the open racism of Washington, where Black visitors were not allowed to ride sightseeing buses to the city’s monuments, eat in the Capitol’s restaurants or attend most theaters.

“The snobbery, the disdain, which many of our white citizens show for Negroes regardless of their personal worth,” she said, “is germinating in both groups seeds whose fruit will eventually destroy all of us unless rooted out before they come to fruition.”

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