Sunday, February 7, 2016


   I met Thelma Dale Perkins a few times when she came to visit my parents in Los Angeles. Such a gracious and lovely person, I knew there was something special about her besides just her friendship with my parents.  My plan was to try to visit her in North Carolina where she had retired but I never made it.  She died in 2014 and I feared I would never learn her true history. I knew snippets - that she was a friend of WEB DuBois; that she was a feminist activist in New York City. But not much more.
   Here is one site that talks about her "civic engagement" - and I am indebted to them for writing this although it gives an entirely one-sided picture of this dynamic and energetic fighter for the rights of African Americans, especially women.
   One photograph captures the dignity of this beautiful woman:
   A bit of her illustrious history may explain some of her accomplishments:  She was born in Washington D.C. in 1915 to parents who had settled in DC post Reconstruction.  "Her maternal uncle Frederick Douglass Patterson was the third president of Tuskegee Institution and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987." "The youngest of four children, Thelma attended Birney Elementary School and the locally renowned Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, America’s first public school for African Americans. In 1932, she entered Howard University to study teaching and social work."
   Thelma Dale joined organizations in college that promoted the role of African Americans in larger society.  She attended chats with Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House discussing issues facing youth at the time.  "After graduating in 1936, she worked for distinguished Howard University sociologist Dr. E. Franklin Frasier on a National Youth Administration Fellowship and for the Federal Government.  [I believe that this was where my father met Thelma Dale Perkins as he was the organizer of the National Youth Administration and gave scholarships to students.] "Integration continued to be an important cause for Thelma and in the 1940s she accepted the position of acting Secretary of the National Negro Congress. During that time, Thelma assisted with early civil rights activities and formed lifelong friendships with such luminaries as Paul Robeson and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois."
   Mrs. Perkins later recalled, “I resigned from the government rather than sign a loyalty oath and accepted the job of National Secretary of the National Negro Congress in New York City.”
   Thelma Dale was friends with Paul and Eslanda Robeson. She was managing editor for Paul Robeson's newspaper Freedom and involved in the campaign to restore Robeson's passport (taken from him in the McCarthy era). 

   In 1957 she married Lawrence Rickman Perkins, Jr. and adopted two children: Lawrence Dale Perkins and Patrice Dale Perkins.
   An excerpt from a book gives a better picture of the activist Thelma Dale:  "In 1945, Thelma Dale, a member of the United States' Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) and engaged political activist, attended the foundational meeting of the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF) in Paris, France.  She described the gathering as an "exhilarating experience," and gave a glowing account of its civility and spirit of solidarity in stark contrast to everyday life under segregation back home. Dale cherished the opportunity to internationalize the struggle of Black women in the United States, and hoped for fruitful learning experiences and rewarding interactions 'with women from the colonial countries, the Soviet Union and many other lands."  "Indeed, about 850 women from 40 countries had accepted the invitation to the meeting from the Union des Femmes Francaises, women who had been active in the French Resistance movement in World War II and had close links to the Communist Party."
   Thelma Dale Perkins is also mentioned in the book about Eslanda Robeson by Barbara Ransby.  "Sojourners for Truth and Justice was made up of a dynamic mix of creative Black women, many of them leftists and communists.  Essie, author Shirley Graham DuBois, actress Beulah (Beah) Richards, author Alice Childress, Thelma Dale Perkins, and activist Louise Thompson Patterson were among the founding core.  They were joined by California publisher Charlotta Bass, who served as the group's president...They described the Sojourners as "a militant Negro women's movement...dedicated to the militant struggle for full freedom of the Negro people and an uncompromising fight against white supremacy."  Sojourners fought for the freedom of a Georgia sharecropper who had killed at white man in 1947. She and two teenage sons were sentenced to death for the killing, even though it was clearly an act of self-defense.  Ultimately they won their freedom and The Sojourners were certainly the most helpful in that outcome.  
   I'll never forget Mrs. Perkins admonishing my father because he did not attend the speeches given by the great Charlotta Base while she campaigned for Vice President with the Progressive Party.  He thought it wouldn't be helpful but Mrs. Perkins thought he was wrong.  I was too shy to ask her why but I think she felt that a white man's support for the struggle of African Americans was important to the outcome of that struggle.
   Thelma Dale Perkins has a tribute to Paul Robeson in the book Paul Robeson: The Great Forerunner.  I hope you will take the time to read this.  
   There is really not enough material available about this woman whose contributions to the struggle for freedom can't be overstated.

More Links:
Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War by Dayo F. Gore -      
Excerpt from a book -   De-Centering Cold War History: Local and Global Change edited by Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney, Fabio Lanza.   Chapter 3. 

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