Most visitors to Pittsburgh who venture to the famous Hill District want to see where the great playwright August Wilson once lived. Visitors will be disappointed to see that the historic site is in terrible disrepair. We won’t bother you with the details of that story. But there are several other landmarks in the area well worth your time and edification, including the St. Benedict the Moor Church on Freedom Corner and a marker commemorating the life and contributions of Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin, not too far away on Webster Avenue.
Heritage markers, as we know too well, provide only a snapshot of a person’s life, and Lampkin’s legacy requires even more than we can allot in this space.
Born Aug. 9, 1883, 1884 or 1888, depending on the source, in Washington, D.C., (or Reading, Pa.), Lampkin began her formal education in Reading, and by 1909 she resided in Pittsburgh. Three years later, she married William Lampkin, who owned a restaurant in the suburbs of the city.
As the wife of a relatively prosperous entrepreneur, Lampkin had time on her hands and she began participating in a number of civic and political affairs, none more notable than becoming an active member of the Suffragette movement, which demanded voting rights for women, among other issues. By 1912, her home was among several noted locations where members of the movement met. Later, she joined the New Negro Women’s Equal Franchise Federation, later renamed the Lucy Stone Civic League, after the noted activist.
In 1913, when the Pittsburgh Courier was struggling to stay afloat the paper, to boost circulation it sponsored a contest promising a Cadillac car to the reader who sold the most subscriptions. Lampkin was the winner. But the Courier’s board said there was no way they could afford a Cadillac. Instead of a luxury car, Lampkin was presented with a check. After the check bounced, she was paid off in stock that later gave her part ownership in the newspaper and she became its vice president.
Lampkin was a fully committed member of the Lucy Stone Civic League, and her leadership skills came to the fore. An outstanding organizer and orator, she soon earned a position as the president of the League, a post she would hold until 1955. Fully ensconced in the women’s club movement, she was invited to serve on the board of the National Association of Colored Women and subsequently became the national chairwoman. In this capacity she was a friend and associate of such remarkable Black women as Mary Church Terrell, Addie Hutton, Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Mary McLeod Bethune. Working alongside Bethune, she helped found the National Council of Negro Women in 1935.
When the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching was founded and began to make some headway, Lampkin was among the outspoken Black women determined to make them live up to their concern about being used as “shields” by white men. She wanted the organization to be more aggressive in support of the federal anti-lynching bill. She asserted that the silence of Southern white women strengthened the congressional opposition to the bill.
Her adamant stance on the anti-lynching bill and her relentless critique of the ASWPL earned her recognition from Walter White, the national secretary of the NAACP, who recruited her as the organization’s first field secretary. It was an honor that Lampkin relished so much so that she almost singlehandedly organized the NAACP national convention in Pittsburgh in 1931. For her dedication and success at the event, she was once more rewarded and appointed the organization’s National Field Secretary.
Among her other leadership roles was as chair of the Allegheny County Negro Women’s Republican League and vice-chair of the Colored Voters Division of the Republican National Committee. Lampkin was instrumental in establishing the first Red Cross chapter among Black women, and she would make similar efforts in other cities. Meanwhile, the list of activities did not interfere with her duties at the Courier, and she was indispensable in making the Courier the number on African-American newspaper in the country by the 1950s.
Whether in the paper or behind the podium, Lampkin never wavered in her fight for justice and equal rights. During a speech at the New Rochelle branch of the NAACP, she expressed her feelings about the importance of integration. “No man is ready to meet the challenge of integration unless he is certain that he and his people have earned their place in an integrated society…and the Negro has earned his place,” she said. “Living in an integrated society is his right; it is not a privilege extended to him by others.”
Few African-American women’s organizations were without her services, including the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, where she brought the same fundraising capability that had made her such a valuable asset to the coffers of the NAACP. In 1947, she was inducted as an honorary member of the sorority. This year was the same year she resigned as National Field Secretary for the NAACP, although she continued to serve on the executive board. White said it was hard for him to imagine the NAACP without Lampkin’s unstinting devotion.
Given her commitment to the NAACP, it was perhaps fitting that she suffered a stroke while at the organization’s membership drive in Camden, N.J. and died on March 10, 1965. Along with the marker on Webster Avenue, her gravesite is of some prominence in the Homewood Cemetery.