Nettie Langston Napier

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Nettie Langston Napier (born Nettie DeElla Langston[1]) from Nashville was an African American activist for the rights of colored women during the early part of the 20th century.


Nettie Langston's father was John Mercer Langston, the first black person to be elected to the US Congress from Virginia, and dean of the law school at Howard University. She was born in 1861 in Oberlin, Ohio, into an upper-class family. She attended Howard for a year and then transferred to Oberlin College, where she studied music. Her future husband, James Carroll Napier, worked at the State Department, and so made John Mercer Langston's acquaintance. Napier returned to Nashville in 1872 to start a law practice, and in 1878 married Langston's daughter. They got married in Washington DC, in a "predominantly white Congregational church".[1]

Napier, who as a "prominent clubwom[a]n" had made important social connection across the south, was part of a "southern network" of about a dozen women, including such prominent women as Maggie L. Walker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Margaret Murray Washington, Jennie B. Moton, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, and Lucy Craft Laney.[2] She was a close friend of the educator John Hope, and was described as "the first lady of Nashville's black elite", and their household "the undisputed center of Nashville's African American upper class".[1]

She founded an organization that supported African American children in Nashville, the Day Homes' Club, in 1907. She was involved with Fisk University, and was invited by the local Red Cross chapter to work with them during World War I.[3] She was treasurer of the National Association of Colored Women,[4] leading the organization together with Margaret Murray Washington.[3] In 1915, during a decade when the national YWCA was considering expanding its services to colored women (facilities would still be segregated), Napier attended the organization's conference in Louisville, as the representative of Nashville, in hopes of establishing a YWCA in Nashville for women of color.[5] In 1934 a pageant, "From Africa to America", organized by students of Tennessee State College's "negro history class", honored her and her husband.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Davis, Leroy (1998). A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 9780820319872.
  2. ^ Gordon, Linda (September 1991). "Black and White Visions of Welfare: Women's Welfare Activism, 1890-1945". The Journal of American History. 78 (2): 559. doi:10.2307/2079534. JSTOR 2079534.
  3. ^ a b Pethel, Mary Ellen. "Lift Every Female Voice: Education and Activism in Nashville's African American Community, 1870-1940". In Bond, Beverly Greene; Freeman, Sarah Wilkerson. Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times--Volume 2. University of Georgia Press. pp. 239–69. ISBN 9780820347554.
  4. ^ Goodstein, Anita Shafer (1998). "A Rare Alliance: African American and White Women in the Tennessee Elections of 1919 and 1920". The Journal of Southern History. 64 (2): 219–46. doi:10.2307/2587945. JSTOR 2587945.
  5. ^ Bucy, Carole Stanford (2002). "Interracial Relations in the YWCA of Nashville: Limits and Dilemmas". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 61 (3): 182–93. JSTOR 42627702.
  6. ^ Ingham, John N.; Feldman, Lynne B. (eds.). "Napier, James Carroll". African-American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 483–91. ISBN 9780313272530.