A legacy of trailblazing and activist women in Fort Wayne

| March 8, 2014

 

Editor’s note: Five years ago, local literacy advocate, champion of history, community activist and renowned storyteller Chief Condra Ridley graciously took time out of her busy schedule to prepare these biographies of just a few notable women in Fort Wayne’s history. Ridley said she wanted to express her thanks to the Fort Wayne African/African-American Historical Society for their invaluable assistance in supplying the background information for the following biographies. Again, in an effort to keep local history alive, Frost Illustrated is using this edition of its annual Women’s History Month Edition to again spotlight a number of area icons from the past.

 

By Chief Condra Ridley

Special to Frost Illustrated

In honor of Women’s History Month, we recognize some of the women who worked to make Fort Wayne a more progressive place for its African American citizens. We take this time to remember them and acknowledge their contributions.

Elma Alsup

is remembered for her dedication to Fort Wayne’s youth, whom she served through her work at the Phyllis Wheatley Center under the leadership of E.J. Unthank. When she was just four-years-old, Elma and her family, Mr. & Mrs. John Alsup and her brother, moved to Fort Wayne. She attended Hoagland Elementary School and Central High School. She completed a course in civic and recreation activities at the American National Playground Association for Social Work and then began her work at the Wheatley Center. Alsup organized many women’s and girls’ clubs, including the Girls Work Committee which sponsored drama classes, musical organizations and basketball and volleyball teams which played in and out of the city.

She helped to organize the Industrial Women’s Club, which brought national artists and speakers, such as Marian Anderson, Clarence Cameron White, Dr. Benjamin Mays and others to Fort Wayne. Alsup’s religious faith inspired her to help others. She made encouraging young people to get educated and to strive for the better things in life her life’s work.

Corrinne Brooks

Corrinne Brooks

Corrinne Mudd Brooks

was a true community servant. In 1930, she began her service to Fort Wayne as a member of the Girls’ Work Committee at the Phyllis Wheatley Center, helping to find jobs for girls graduating from high school and those desiring to go to college. She was a charter member of the Limberlost Girl Scout Council and had been a graduate from South Side High School in 1928 and then from Wilberforce University (cum laude) in 1932, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. Racial discrimination kept her from gaining employment in the field of education for which she had trained, so she worked in a local department store’s china department. In 1938, she married Ellis Micheaux who owned Micheaux Funeral Home. After her husband’s death in 1952, Micheaux continued to operate of the mortuary for 51 more years. Josie Micheaux is remembered as a dedicated business owner who maintained the oldest African American owned and operated business in Fort Wayne’s history.

 

Marjorie D. Wickliffe

Marjorie D. Wickliffe

Marjorie Dickerson Wickliffe

was devoted to helping others. She was born in Fort Wayne in 1896. She was instrumental in establishing the Phyllis Wheatley Center, which became the Fort Wayne Urban League. Wickliffe was an active and charter member of the Fort Wayne branch of the NAACP. She often opened her home to the nationally recognized orators and performers who visited Fort Wayne. Her interest in keeping Fort Wayne culturally enriched kept her engaged with many social and civic organizations, which gave her many awards for her outstanding work over the years. Because of her involvement in the National Council of Negro Women, founded by Mary McLeod Bethure, Wickliffe was invited for tea at the White House in 1942 by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was also proud to boast that she had been babysitter for a young girl named Jane Peters, who later became known as Carole Lombard, the famous actress. Marjorie Wickliffe was a lifetime member of Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church where she sang in the Senior Choir for 75 years.

Wickliffe lived to be 97 and her legacy of tireless activism lives on.

Lucinda Briggs

made her mark on Fort Wayne through her work on various civic and social organizations. Lucinda was born in Natchez, Miss., in 1896. She attended college and became an English teacher. During World War II, she worked as a clerk in the meter-reading department at city utilities. Briggs was actively involved in local issues and organizations. In the early 1950s, she served as the first female president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was also active in the Fort Wayne Urban League. With the Jenny Connor Civic Club, Briggs raised money to offer college scholarships to local black teens. She was named the club’s Woman of the Year in 1977.

Lucinda Briggs was the first Fort Wayne woman to be elected state president of Indiana’s National Federation of Colored Women. She was active in the Order of the Eastern Star and the Republican Party. We honor the memory of Lucinda Briggs for the services she rendered through the many organizations she was involved in.

Elizabeth Liz Dobynes

Elizabeth Liz Dobynes

Elizabeth “Liz” Dobynes

was born Elizabeth Fincher in Marion, Ala. She graduated from Lincoln High School, from which Coretta Scott King also graduated, then went on to Miles College. In 1950, “Liz” came to Fort Wayne. Shortly after that, she was hired by Magnavox Electronics Company and received training at Ivy Tech to become a tester, becoming one the first black women to hold that position. She joined the NAACP as a youth and remained active in the organization 43 years. For 12 years, she served as the president of the local branch always encouraging others to get involved, do the right thing, stand up and speak out for justice whenever necessary. Dobynes was a Christian who was courageous, strong and faithful.

We salute her tenacity and her efforts to unite the community in positive action.

Margaret Howell

worked to overcome discrimination in Fort Wayne. After moving from Atlanta in 1920, she found that the only three factories that hired blacks were the Rolling Mill, Bass Foundry and the Pennsylvania Roundhouse. She worked as a private maid for the owner of the Kindler Hotel while her husband, Thirman Howell worked at International Harvester. In 1924, she started working for the Republican political party handing out materials at election times. Mrs. Howell started working at the Republican headquarters located in the 1200 block of Lafayette Street in 1930 where she recruited members for the party and gave instructions on how to operate the voting machines. In 1943, she became one the first three black employees hired at the Wayne Pump and stayed there until 1949. In response to the racial discrimination that still existed in public accommodations at that time, Margaret Howell and her husband decided to open a hotel for blacks. We remember Mrs. Howell as the founder of Fort Wayne’s first African American hotel.

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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