A profile in courage

October 26, 2006

Diminutive though she was, Enolia P. McMillan walked tall and proudly and purposefully. She accomplished much in her 102 years, her individual achievements mirroring the success she would have in pursuit of civil rights. Mrs. McMillan, who died Tuesday at her Stevenson home, saw education as the bridge to a better life for African-Americans and others. As a teacher and a tireless worker for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she fought against discrimination and for equal opportunity. Her public service served us all.

A Virginia native whose father was born a slave, Mrs. McMillan moved to Baltimore as a child. She earned her teaching degree in 1927 from Howard University, traveling by train five hours a day to get to school, and taught in segregated schools in Caroline and Charles counties. She also held a master's degree in education from Columbia University. Her NAACP work began in 1935, when she helped rebuild the Baltimore chapter, and she served decades later as the group's first female national president.

She had a militant's passion for the cause but the demeanor of a Sunday school teacher - and both served her well. A presence at NAACP events into her later years, Mrs. McMillan led a one-woman fundraising drive to relocate the organization to Baltimore. She sold $150,000 worth of $1 lapel pins that read "NAACP" and "I gave," which sums up Mrs. McMillan's life and legacy.

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