Celebrating Black Female Freedom Fighters: Beatrice Morrow Cannady

To learn more about this freedom fighter read A Force for Change available at national booksellers.

Beatrice Morrow Cannady (1890-1974) is yet another figure whose name and story should not be forgotten. While history would have us to believe that the civil rights movement was only active on the East Coast, Ms. Cannady was a powerful advocate and organizer on the West Coast and challenged the rampant racial discrimination which took place in Oregon. A founder of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, Ms. Cannady was also chief editor and owner of the Advocate, Portland’s sole African American newspaper.

Born in Texas in 1890, Ms. Cannady relocated to Portland in 1910. In 1912, she married Edward Daniel Cannady who worked simultaneously as the editor of the Advocate (which he founded) and a waiter at the Portland Hotel. Two years later, she helped found the Portland’s chapter of the NAACP while mobilizing women of color for the war effort. During that time, she served as the Colonel Charles Young War Savings Club president and headed the local Red Cross Auxiliary’s knitting unit. She also became assistant editor at the Advocate, using her writings in the paper and public talks to address  racial discrimination in Portland as well as lead local protests against and limit showings of the racist 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation. She also used the newspaper to warn readers of Ku Klux Klan activities throughout the state.

The object of the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People as you know is to make 12 million American Negroes physically free from…mentally free from ignorance, politically free from disenfranchisement and socially free from insult. – Beatrice Morrow Cannady

In 1922, at the age of 33, Ms. Cannady was one of two women, and the first African American woman, to graduate from Northwestern College of Law in Portland. (She was also one of the first African American women to graduate from law school in the nation.) She later helped create Oregon’s first civil rights legislation to mandate full access to public accommodations regardless of race or ethnicity. This piece of legislation failed but Ms. Cannady was successful in repealing the laws which denied people of color voting rights and kept Blacks from settling in Oregon. She also won the fight against excluding Black children from public schools in Vermonia, Oregon and Longview, Washington.

My absolute favorite accomplishment by Ms. Cannady was her extensive library on African American history. She maintained well over 300 volumes of Black history and literature and she kept a thorough file of civil rights organization publications. She reached out to high schools and colleges, lectured to religious and civic groups and participated in radio broadcasts during Negro History Week. She further encouraged the pursuit of knowledge of Black history and culture by all through coordination of social gatherings such as interracial tea parties. And she worked in partnership with W.E. B. Dubois, James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes to improve race relations overall.

It is the duty of the Negro woman to see that in the home there are histories of her race written by Negro historians. She should see to it that there are books of fiction, poetry and serious works. That pictures, paintings, etc., are in the home. The Negro mother has it within her power to invest less in overstuffed furniture for instance, and more in books and music by and about the Negro race so that our youth may grow up with a pride of race which can never be had any other way. – Beatrice Morrow Cannady

In addition to running an unsuccessful campaign for Oregon’s district 5 seat for the office of state representative, Ms. Cannady was a member of the Oregon Prison Association, the Near East Relief Organization and the Pan African Congress. Affiliated with the Oregon Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, Ms. Cannady was very outspoken against war proliferation.

In 1938, she moved to Los Angeles where she continued to write for the Precinct Reporter and host interracial gatherings.

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