Historical Markers
Crystal Bird Fauset Historical Marker
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Crystal Bird Fauset

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
5403 Vine St., Philadelphia

Behind the Marker

"I have a message to you people in Philadelphia…. Of all the great Negro centers in this country, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, St Louis, Detroit, and Philadelphia, this city is at the bottom of the ladder…. You people in this city should stop wasting your strength and disgracing your race comrades elsewhere by electing people to office who forget you the day after election. They do the perfectly natural thing: take care of those who are nearest them. The only way we can work out our salvation here is to follow the same method."
-Chicago Congressman Oscar DePriest, July 19, 1928.

Robert N. C. Nix taking his oath as Congressman, sworn in by House Speaker Pro Tem John W. McCormack (D-Mass) second from left. Also participating in the ceremony were Philadelphia Congressman William J. Green Jr., (left) and Congressman Francis E. Walter of Easton, PA (right), who was head of the Pennsylvania Democratic Delegation.  January, 1959
Philadelphia attorney Robert N. C. Nix taking his oath of office as a United...
As the first African American elected to Congress since 1898, Oscar DePriest had the moral authority to speak bluntly. The nation's third largest city, Philadelphia also had the third largest population of African Americans - close to 230,000. Pennsylvanians, however, would not elect an African American to Congress until Robert N.C. Nix, in 1958.
American Friends Service Committee Speaker's Bureau flyer for Crystal Bird bears her photgraph and details of the event.
American Friends Service Committee Speaker's Bureau flyer for Crystal Bird of...

In the 1930s, Pennsylvania's most dynamic African-American political couple was Arthur Huff and Crystal Bird Fauset. Born in 1894 in Princess Anne, Maryland, Crystal Bird was raised in Boston, and there, from 1914 to 1918 worked as a public school teacher. From 1918 to 1926, Bird served as field secretary for African-American girls in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).

In the late 1920s, she studied at Teachers College, Columbia University, and lectured on African American culture for the markerAmerican Friends Service Committee, the activist arm of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). In 1931 Bird graduated from Columbia and married educator Arthur Huff Fauset (1899- 1983). A principal at Philadelphia's all-black Joseph Singerly School, Fauset, who was also a respected folklorist and writer, hailed from an old Delaware Valley African-American family. His half-sister was the Harlem Renaissance novelist Jessie Redmond Fauset.
Interior photograph of an auditorium where a large group has gathered. On the stage a panel of men and women sit at a long table and above hangs a banner of black heroes.
Meeting of the Second National Negro Congress, Philadelphia, PA October 15,...

In the early 1930s Crystal Bird Fauset worked for the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College, documenting the inequality of employment and housing for African Americans. Registering as a Democrat, she helped mobilized African-American women to vote. Although the Democrats failed to carry Philadelphia in the 1932 presidential election, the Roosevelt administration rewarded Fauset by appointing her director of the Women and Professional Project in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Philadelphia.

In 1935, Fauset served on the Federal Housing Advisory Board. At the 1936 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Fauset organized female African-American WPA workers to entertain convention delegates. From this group she organized the all-female Willing Workers Democratic Organization (WWDO) to increase voter registration and membership in Philadelphia. Fauset's efforts paid off. For the first time in Philadelphia history, voters in predominately black wards voted Democratic in 1936.
Black and white, head and shoulders photograph.
Reverend Marshall Shepard, November 7, 1940.

While Crystal Bird Fauset worked within the political mainstream, her husband engaged in more left-wing political activities. Convinced that neither party would respond to African-American needs, Fauset in 1935 became chairman of the Philadelphia Sponsoring Committee for the National Negro Congress (NNC), a new "radical" organization committed to political and economic empowerment.

At the organization's first national meeting in Chicago, Fauset was elected Vice President. For the next three years he helped lead African-American efforts in the city of Philadelphia for better housing, jobs, state anti-lynching legislation, and enforcement of Pennsylvania's 1935 marker Equal Rights law. In 1937, when the National Negro Congress held its second annual meeting in Philadelphia, delegates lodged in private homes because of continued illegal exclusion from city hotels.

Mobilized by deprivation and the new opportunities created by a competitive two party system black Philadelphians in 1936 elected five African Americans to the Pennsylvania legislature, including the first Democrat, Reverend Marshall L. Shepard. (That summer, when Shepard delivered the invocation at the opening of the 1936 Democratic presidential convention in Philadelphia, Senator Ellison Smith of South Carolina made headlines by walking out in marker protest of African American participation in the proceedings).
Black and white, head and shoulders photograph.
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Arthur Huff Fauset, June 1942.

In 1938, the Philadelphia Democratic Party asked Crystal Bird Fauset to run for the state legislature in the Eighteenth District, where two-thirds of the voters were white. On November 8, 1938, Fauset became the first African American woman to win election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. As a state representative, Fauset introduced nine bills and three amendments on issues concerning public health, housing, public relief, and working women. She also sponsored an amendment to the Pennsylvania Female Labor Law of 1913 to better protect women in the workplace.

In January 1940, Fauset resigned from the Pennsylvania legislature to become assistant state director of the Pennsylvania WPA education and recreation programs.
Two women seated and clapping their hands in applause.
Crystal Fauset with Eleanor Roosevelt at a rally of African-American Civilian...

In 1941, her friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped Fauset secure a position as assistant director and racial relations director of the Office of Civil Defense. In that job, Fauset urged communities in the South to involve blacks in civil defense planning. She responded to racial discrimination complaints, including the exclusion of African Americans from USO (United Service Organizations) canteens, segregation in the armed forces, and exclusion of African Africans from combat missions in World War II.

While his wife worked for the federal government, Arthur Fauset served briefly in the army, then worked with the United People's Action Committee in Philadelphia. Disappointed that the Roosevelt administration was not moving fast enough in ending segregation, Crystal Bird in 1944 left the Democratic Party to back Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey for president. That same year Arthur published Black Gods of the Metropolis, a major study of African-American urban religious groups, which marked his emergence as one of the nation's first black anthropologists.

After World War II, Fauset broadened her scope of activities. She helped found the United Nations Council of Philadelphia, which later became the World Affairs Council, and in the 1950s traveled in Africa, India, and the Middle East to meet with independence leaders. Arthur, meanwhile, continued to teach and write, publishing a book on American race relations, America: Red, White, Black, and Yellow, in 1969. Crystal Bird Fauset died in Philadelphia on March 27, 1965. Arthur, who moved to New York City, died in 1983.
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