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Rediscovering Merze Tate: A remarkable African-American woman who grew up in our own backyard

Discover how an African-America girl growing up in rural Michigan during the early 1900s overcame hurdles to achieve phenomenal success as an educator, world traveler and more -- an amazing story almost lost in the dusty archives at WMU.
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Much-anticipated presentation about Merze Tate, a lifestory almost lost

Amazingly, the astonishing life story of Tate might have remained hidden in our own backyard were it not for a Kalamazoo researcher who was exploring the archives at Western Michigan University in search of African American “Firsts” of WMU.  

Merze Tate (1905 - 1996) graduated from WMU, Harvard University and Oxford University

Merze Tate (1905 - 1996) graduated from WMU, Harvard University and Oxford University / Merze Tate Collection-WMU Archives & Regional History Collections

Kalamazoo journalist Sonya, Bernard-Hollins will tell Merze Tate's story in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Kalamazoo journalist Sonya, Bernard-Hollins will tell Merze Tate's story in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Discover how a tenacious African- American girl growing up in rural mid- Michigan in the early 1900s defied tremendous odds during the Jim Crow era by earning degrees at some of the world’s  most prestigious universities and then went on to achieve success few can ever imagine. 

The remarkable Merze Tate became a college dean and professor at well-known renowned universities, a world traveler, an international reporter, and an international relations advisor to General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Amazingly, the astonishing life story of Tate might have remained hidden in our own backyard were it not for a Kalamazoo researcher who was exploring the archives at Western Michigan University in search of African American “Firsts” of WMU.   

That researcher, 1993 WMU graduate Sonya Bernard-Hollins, a Kalamazoo native and freelance journalist, will present the fascinating findings of her exploration during a noon luncheon, Thursday, March 20, at the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, 20 Hall St. SE.  

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Bernard-Hollins’ much-anticipated presentation promises to be an intriguing look at some of the nation’s most significant events during the 20th Century through the eyes of an African-American woman and a glimpse of the challenges Tate and many other African Americans faced during those racially charged times.  

Tate was a grandchild of the first African-American settlers in Mecosta County. Born in Blanchard, Michigan in 1905, a very small community about 60 miles northeast of Grand Rapids near Mt. Pleasant, she longed to see the world outside the pine trees and dirt roads which surrounded her.  

After graduating from Western State Teacher’s College (now WMU), Tate taught high school in Indiana and then returned to college in 1935 and became the first African American to earn a graduate degree from Oxford University in England. In 1941, she made history again when she became the first African American female to earn a PhD in political science from Harvard University.

In 1950 she served as a Fulbright Scholar in India; her expertise in disarmament led to her being an advisor to General Eisenhower on international relations.

Bernard-Hollins will describe Tate’s other accomplishments as well. Tate was college professor at Howard University where she worked from 1942-1977, spoke five languages, traveled the world twice, was an international reporter for Baltimore’s  Afro American Newspaper, and worked as a photographer, filmmaker and researcher for the U.S. State Department, all while being a college professor.

Tate’s name is unknown to many, prompting Bernard-Hollins to take hold of her discovery and stake out a journey herself as she spreads the word about this inspirational woman whose compelling story might have been lost forever in the dusty university archives.

The result is a traveling exhibit curated by Bernard-Hollins based on photos Tate took during her journey around the world.  Bernard-Hollins also started the Merze Tate Travel Club which inspires young girls through travel and media. 

Tate died in 1996 at the age of 91, having never married nor leaving behind any children.  However, her legacy lives on. She has left millions to institutes of higher learning who looked beyond her race and gender to provide her with a stellar education and to inspire her to impact the world in many areas for generations to come. 

This much-anticipated event is co-sponsored by the Grand Rapids Study Club, established in 1901 and now the oldest African-American women’s organization in Michigan, and the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council.

Please let us know if you plan to join us by emailing [email protected] or [email protected] . Lunch is provided, and parking is available.

~ By Sharon A. Hanks, Board Trustee of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council.

 

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