Filed Under Activism

Daisy Lampkin

Tireless Advocate for Women and Black Civil Rights

Despite her quiet and unassuming demeanor, Daisy Lampkin achieved astonishing feats as a tireless crusader for women and civil rights.

Daisy Lampkin was a woman with many roles and had her voice heard throughout more organizations than one could imagine, many centered in the Hill District located in Pittsburgh itself. Nicknamed by some as the “Dynamic Daisy Lampkin”, she has a long list of activism across social issues such as suffrage, civil rights, and even youth initiatives in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.

Ms. Lampkin was born to a working-class family in Washington D.C. in 1883. At the age of 26, she made the decision to move to Pittsburgh in the Hill District, where she married restaurant owner William Lampkin three years later. Daisy and William would never have children of their own during their 50 years of marriage, but they would adopt and raise their 11-month old goddaughter Romaine Childs in 1924. Beginning with consumer protest groups among Black housewives in the city, Daisy started her long career of activism which would continue until the 1960s.

During the women’s suffrage movement of the 1910s, Ms. Lampkin was a founder and leader of the Lucy Stone Civil League which was a society for Black women who supported suffrage efforts. She also had prominent roles in the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and the National Association of Colored Women. While working with the NCNW, she was called “Our Daisy” by many in the council, especially after giving a rousing speech which led to $16,000 in pledges for the council in 1947.

During this time, suffrage groups were highly segregated between White and Black women, leaving the suffrage movement to be a divided fight. Ms. Lampkin solidified her voice in the fight for gender equality in the United States and made the fight for suffrage an instance of an integrated cause for women. She became a prominent figure for women of color across many social issues that she fought for in the decades to come.

Along with the suffrage movement, Ms. Lampkin devoted much of her life to fighting for the civil rights of African Americans throughout the early 20th century. She is most known for holding a very prominent and driving role in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This group was instrumental in its fight for civil rights for African Ameicans since its founding in 1909 during a time when Jim Crow laws such as segregation and discrimination were rampant in the country. Her efforts in the NAACP, particularly in her founding of the Pittsburgh branch, helped drive membership to roughly 2,000 by 1929. She was known to have a “oratorical flair and vigorous fundraising” spirit when advocating both on the local and national levels. She traveled to various cities across the East and Midwest cities to hold meetings for the NAACP including Baltimore, Chicago, and Memphis.

Ms. Lampkin worked alongside some of the most notable members of the NAACP on the national level, including Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Church Terrell, and Thurgood Marshall. In particular, she was instrumental in convincing Marshall to join the NAACP’s legal defense team which sparked his career further into becoming one of the most prominent African American in the legal system. Marshall was instrumental in winning many cases that fought segregation laws, most notably Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which found segregation in public schools unconstitutional in 1954.

During the 1920s, Ms. Lampkin went further in her political activism as she served as the vice chairman of the Negro Voters League of Pennyslvania and the Colored Voters Division of the Republican Party. In the former, was known as an alternate delegate-at-large, meaning she was ready to represent the league as a whole, at the Republican national convention. Her time in politics did not go without its tough waters, however. During her time as president of the Negro Women’s Republican League of Allegheny County, she responded to gossip about the league and claims of greed with her usual flair at a meeting towards the council: “I had said I would resign; that I would not work for you like I have, neglecting my home and my hubands’ work and not be appreciated. But in the face of your spirit here tonight I stand here as your county chairman until you elect another, and all the devils in hell can not prevent me from doing so.”

Our male leadership is so busy with their private interests that nothing is done unless the women do it.
-Daisy Lampkin

Ms. Lampkin's efforts did not end with the spoken word. For 35 years, she was the vice president and stockholder of the Pittsburgh Courier, which was a weekly newspaper for African Americans that was prominent across the country for the first half of the 20th century. In this role, she was able to bring the Courier to great heights. Her voice became a prominent sounding board for including African Americans into the conversation of world affairs. When discussing the actual role of the United Nations in 1955 and the reader's “fogginess” regarding the subject, she is noted to have asked “What can we do to bring its meaning to our readers?” effectively advocating for African Americans to be involved in discourse about global topics.

Aside from these expanded notable roles, she was instrumental in many local charities and associations as well throughout her life. She served in the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Red Cross, the Pittsburgh Urban League, the Council of Churches, and a youth initiative known as Hill City. While at the Courier, Daisy continued to use her voice to advocate for the Hill District when she protested against dumping of garbage on street corners, stating that “I have complained repeatedly about these conditions. I have had sanitary inspectors come to see me. They have stated it is better to have the [garbage] thrown out into the streets than hidden in cellars where it might become a health menace. It is ridiculous that a city the size of Pittsburgh should have to accept this condition as a lesser of two evils.”

In 1964, she was the first to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt- Mary McLeod Bethune World Citizenship Award which was accepted by her friend Lena Horne due to her failing health after a stroke.

Ms. Lampkin remained in the Hill District on Webster Avenue until her death in March of 1965. On August 9, 1983 a historical marker was placed outside her former home in the Hill District commemorating her life and service. She was the first African American woman in Pennsylvania history to receive this honor. The Daisy E. Lampkin Award is also given annually to a woman of the community of Pittsburgh (many who have resided in the Hill District) who dedicates service to the fight for equal rights.

Images

Daisy Lampkin speaking Daisy Lampkin addressing a women's activist group Source: John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Temple University Libraries Date: 1940

Location

2519 Webster Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Metadata

Katie O'Toole, “Daisy Lampkin,” Hill District Digital History, accessed July 20, 2024, https://hillhistory.org/items/show/12.