January 4, 1867, is said to be the birth date of Elizabeth Carter, a black woman whose mother was enslaved by a U.S. President. New Bedford, Massachusetts is Elizabeth’s birthplace. Martha Webb was the name of her mother, and former U.S. President John Tyler was the man who owned Martha Webb. Webb became a well-known abolitionist and conductor of the Underground Rail Road. Her passion for helping black people gain their freedom was inherited by Elizabeth Carter and would help to shape her future. Elizabeth developed an interest in architecture while attending New Bedford High School and the Swain Free School in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She not only created an interest, but she began developing her skills to become a future black architect. In addition to developing her skills in architecture, she attended the Harrington Normal School for teachers and earned a teaching certificate after becoming the first black person to graduate from the Harrington Normal School.
Around the year 1890, Elizabeth began her teaching career at the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn, New York, an orphanage founded by black Americans. In 1895, she began her work with the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC). She became the secretary of the organization's convention in 1896. From 1906 to 1908, Elizabeth served as the vice-president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. 1901, was the year that Elizabeth began teaching at New Bedford’s Taylor School, making her the first black person to teach in New Bedford. In 1908, she became the president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs after serving as the vice-president. She served as president until 1912. This is around the time when Elizabeth learned about the NAACP and decided to found her own chapter of the NAACP in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She later became a founder of the New England Federation of Women’s Clubs. She would serve as the president of the New England Federation of Women’s Clubs for over 27 years. As the president, she worked to make sure community organizations and organizations in need received the necessary resources to operate. She helped community centers receive funding, helped support scholarship funds, and supported the building of daycare centers in communities in need.
In 1918, Elizabeth was recruited and named the overseer of the building of the Phyllis Wheatly YWCA in Washington D.C. Elizabeth’s community work seemed to never end. She was instrumental in helping the New Bedford Home for the Aged be constructed, by ensuring it was funded and contributing to the design of the organization's final and main location. To help maintain the several locations for the New Bedford Home for the Aged, Elizabeth arranged for the Women's Loyal Union to become the organization responsible for maintaining the locations. In typical Elizabeth Carter fashion, she became the president of the New Bedford Home for the Aged and the Women’s Loyal Union, maintaining those roles until 1930. The year earlier, she married a man named W. Sampson Brooks, the bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Denomination of the Bethel Church. The two were married for five years before W. Sampson Brooks passed away. The couple moved to San Antonio, Texas, but Elizabeth moved back to New Bedford after her husband's death. The love for architecture never left Elizabeth’s heart. She would take on the task of preserving historical black properties and buildings in 1939. Elizabeth purchased and memorialized the home of the black military officer and hero William Carney. Elizabeth Carter Brooks died in 1951 in New Bedford, but will forever be remembered as a pioneer, educator, architect, activist, organizer, historian, and champion for the human rights of black Americans. To Mrs. Elizabeth Carter Brooks, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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