Charlotte M. Hershaw.

There are several interesting ways to trace the background and history of Charlotte Monroe Hershaw. In the first place we are talking about a woman we encountered last week in our profile of Gertrude Morgan, the wife of Clement Morgan. All of them, including Charlotte’s husband, Lafayette, were pivotal in the founding and administration of the Niagara Movement. While we found a trove of information about her husband, there was only a scant of details about her and the contribution she made to this early civil rights movement.

From the alumni records at Atlanta University, we know Charlotte was a teacher at the school in 1880, and this notice occurred eight years before she married Lafayette, who is also listed in the bulletin. We learned too from a membership card that she had a prominent role in the Niagara organization since her signature appears just above W.E.B. Du Bois’s, the leader and chief founder of the group. It’s not clear exactly why her name is on the card but she must have had some role in the membership committee.

The photo included here has her positioned standing at the far right, a passel of some sort in her hand. This picture was taken at the Niagara conference in 1906. Again, from the materials in her hand, unlike the others, she was a coordinator or significantly involved in governing the proceedings. When she wasn’t actively involved in the movement, she assisted her husband in his professions. He was a journalist, lawyer and a clerk and law examiner for the General Land Office of the United States Department of the Interior.

He had the latter responsibility while Charlotte was teaching, and both were key intellectual figures among the African Americans in Atlanta and in the nation’s capital for at least a decade or so. Charlotte was dutifully by his side as he led such organizations as the Bethel Literary and Historical Society and the Pen and Pencil Club. They were an indispensable couple in the Niagara Movement as they were in the D.C. branch of the NAACP and later as educators, particularly at the Robert H. Terrell Law School, where Lafayette served as the school’s president.

They had three daughters, Rosa Cecile (who married Howard alum and Harlem doctor James T.W. Granady), Alice May and Fay M. Charlotte, who died Oct. 26, 1930.

It should be noted that Lafayette Hershaw was one of the original 29 members of the Movement and with his wife in tandem—and signing on as the state secretary—she was about as close as a woman got to the seminal inner circle. He died Sept. 2, 1945, in the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. 

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