Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin
Lampkin, Daisy 1883(?)–1965
Daisy Lampkin 1883(?)–1965
Newspaper executive, civil rights advocate
During an era when social biases kept most women out of the political arena, Daisy Lampkin was an invaluable supporter of the adolescent National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Having been active in the fight for women’s suffrage in the United States, she turned her energies to the black civil rights movement during the 1920s and assumed an official position with the NAACP in 1930. Lampkin became a key fundraiser for the organization and was highly respected for her tireless enthusiasm and persuasive skills. She was also a prominent figure in Pittsburgh’s black community through her involvement in a myriad of organizations and her role as vice president of the Pittsburgh Courier.
In Pittsburgh, Lampkin is remembered for her achievements as an advocate for social change and for her remarkable personal attributes. In 1997 Steve Levin wrote in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Daisy Lampkin had a way about her that charmed politicians and emboldened the browbeaten.…[S]he could fly into a city, give several speeches with her oratorical flair and get even the most parsimonious to donate;” he added, Lampkin is “considered by some to be one of the great American women of the 20th century.” A woman with a passion for hats, Lampkin was affectionately known to her friends and colleagues as “Aunt Daisy.” At one time, Lampkin rented an apartment to a teacher named K. Leroy Irvis, who later became the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ longest-serving speaker. Irvis recalled in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “If she had any vulnerability, I never saw it. She could be soft when it was needed or she could be hard and commanding when she needed to be. She was the one person who could tell me to sit down and shut up and I would sit down and shut up.”
Born Daisy Elizabeth Adams on August 9, 1883? in Washington, D.C., Lampkin grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania as the only child of George and Rosa Adams. After graduating from public high school, the young woman came to Pittsburgh in about 1909. She married William Lampkin in 1912 and helped him at his restaurant in a Pittsburgh suburb. Lampkin proceeded to devote her adult life to social causes, beginning with those issues that were important to her as a black housewife. She is believed to have given her first women’s rights tea in 1912, and when the couple moved into the city, she became more actively involved in the suffrage movement. The Lampkins had no children, but helped to raise a friend’s daughter, Romaine Childs, who became Lampkin’s heir.
As a suffragist, Lampkin joined the Negro Women’s Equal Franchise Federation, later renamed the Lucy Stone League. In 1915 Lampkin became the organization’s president, a position she held for 40 years. After women obtained the right to vote, the group raised
At a Glance…
Born Daisy Elizabeth Adams, in Reading, PA, August 8, 1883?; daughter of George S. (a porter) and Rosa (Proctor) Adams; married William Lampkin (a restaurant owner) in 1912; died on March 10, 1965.
Career: Pittsburgh Courier, vice-president, 1925-65; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), regional field secretary, 1930-35; national field secretary, 1935-47; member, board of directors, 1947-65; assisted a great number of organizations, including the Lucy Stone Woman Suffrage League, the National Association of Colored Women, Colored Voters’ Division of the Republican National Committee, Allegheny County Negro Women’s Republican League, Negro Voters League of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Urban League, National Council of Negro Women, Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Awards: NAACP Woman of the Year, 1945; Eleanor Roosevelt-Mary McLeod Bethune World Citizenship Award, 1964; home on Webster Avenue designated a historical landmark, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Spirit of King Award, Pittsburgh Port Authority, Kingsley Association, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1997.
money for scholarships. Lampkin’s early career as a suffragette included making street-corner speeches and encouraging other black housewives to create a social voice as organized consumer groups.
Once Lampkin had gained the right to vote, she became actively involved in politics. She would become chairman of the Allegheny County Negro Women’s Republican League, vice-chairman of the Negro Voters League of Pennsylvania, and vice-chairman of the Colored Voters Division of the Republican National Committee. Lampkin also served twice as an alternate delegate at large to the National Republican Party Convention.
Lampkin involved herself in an amazing number of other organizations and projects. During World War I, she led Allegheny County’s black community in raising over $2 million in Liberty Bond sales. Lampkin helped organize the first Red Cross chapter among black women and created local chapters of the Urban League and NAACP. She was a charter member of the National Council of Negro Women, a board chairman for the National Association of Colored Women, and an elder of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Lampkin became a Pittsburgh Courier vice president under editor-publisher Robert L. Vann, who had previously recruited her to help with fundraising. According to one account, Lampkin had won a subscription contest for the black weekly in which a promoter promised a car as first prize; when the promoter disappeared leaving Vann without a car, he rewarded Lampkin out of his own pocket. Another account says that Lampkin was made a stock holder. While a vice president, Lampkin wrote stories and was often named in the newspaper. “The women’s pages … featured an impressive array of clubs which sponsored weekly events in the black community, and Daisy Lampkin was always out in front raising money for orphans and widows, church mortgages and scholarships for youth,” Edna B. McKenzie noted in Pennsylvania Heritage. By mid-century, she had helped make the Pittsburgh Courier the most widely circulated black newspaper in the world.
In 1930, Lampkin became the first field secretary for the NAACP. She assumed this job under the direction of Walter White, and quickly made her presence felt in the organization. Lampkin is credited with single-handedly arranging for the NAACP’s 1931 national convention to be held in Pittsburgh. In 1935 Lampkin was made national field secretary, a role she filled until 1947 when she became a member of the board of directors. This change came about when Lampkin’s doctor advised her to slow down in consideration of her poor health. For Lampkin’s work for the NAACP was very rigorous, requiring frequent travel and long days. It is believed that she once conducted 40 chapter meetings in a single month. She crossed the country forming new chapters, reviving existing chapters, and raising money. Ultimately, Lampkin could never bring herself to retire and served the organization for some 35 years.
Among the most important episodes of Lampkin’s service to the NAACP was when she spearheaded the anti-lynching button campaign of 1937, which was aimed to support the Costigan-Wagner Act that was to be voted on in the U.S. Congress. The act called for federal intervention when local authorities failed to respond to lynchings. To this end, the NAACP was faced with the difficult task of increasing blacks’ awareness of lynchings. As Lampkin recalled in a 1962 interview with author Robert L. Zangrando, “We were so ashamed that whites could do that to us, that we hardly wanted to talk about it publicly.” Some 250,000 buttons were produced that read “Stop lynching! N.A.A.C.P. Defense Fund.” Sold at a time when blacks were still suffering financially from the Great Depression, the buttons grossed $9,378 by April of 1937.
Lampkin was also involved in much behind-the-scenes work, including convincing future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to become a member of the association’s Legal Defense Committee. She is said to have told the young lawyer in 1938—when he was practicing law in Baltimore—that he should move to New York to be near the NAACP headquarters. By 1954 he had become an attorney for the organization and argued the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court. In particular, Lampkin worked closely with Roy Wilkins, who was head of the NAACP at the time of her death.
Some historians doubt that an accurate measure of Lampkin’s contributions as an activist was ever made during her lifetime. Edna B. McKenzie, an emeritus professor at the Community College of Allegheny County, remarked in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “the men really depended upon her. I doubt seriously if they could have done it without Daisy Lampkin. She raised the money and she recruited the people. I’m not just talking about Pittsburgh; I’m talking nationally.” And Lampkin was described by Paula Giddings in When and Where I Enter as an example of “women who performed much of the nuts-and-bolts work of their organizations, yet were hardly expected to gain public recognition or even be in on major policy decisions.” However, in some instances her impact was clearly documented: in 1944 she was credited with increasing the NAACP’s membership more than any other executive; in 1945 the organization named her its “Woman of the Year;” and during her last year as national field secretary, Lampkin was reported to have raised over $1 million for the NAACP.
During the early 1950s Lampkin renewed her involvement in women’s issues when she assisted the black sorority Delta Sigma Theta with a fundraising campaign to create a national headquarters in Washington, D.C. As Paula Giddings noted in In Search of Sisterhood, this campaign or “‘crusade’ would be different from the others. For the first time she would try to raise a significant amount of funds wholly within one organization: an organization whose members, chapters, and regions had varying amounts of resources.” The resulting campaign called for chapters to give the prescribed amount of $100 each, for graduate sorors to give at least $10, and for student members to give $5. In this way she helped the sorority to centralize their record keeping and finances and to have a presence in the policy-making center of the nation.
Hypertension and arthritis were the leading causes that prompted Lampkin to leave her position as NAACP field secretary and the hardship of extensive traveling, but she continued to work as a member of the organization’s board. Lampkin died on March 10, 1965 after having a stroke months earlier at a NAACP membership drive event in Camden, New Jersey. As this illustrated, her dedication to the civil rights organization never faltered. Her adopted daughter Romaine Childs remembered in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “They’d call and say, ‘Daisy, we need you’.…We’ve got some boys in jail. We need to raise some funds.’ She couldn’t stay in a hotel (because of segregation) but she’d pack her bags in the middle of the night or day and go raise funds for the NAACP. And that was her life.” The Pittsburgh Courier reflected in Lampkin’s obituary that the woman was “in herself an institution. There was no line of separation between herself and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was truly ‘Mrs. NAACP.’”
In 1983 Lampkin was recognized in her adopted home town of Pittsburgh by a historical marker on her Webster Avenue apartment building. This was the first time the state of Pennsylvania awarded a plaque to honor an African American in the city. In 1997 she was the recipient of the “Spirit of King” award, which honors civil rights advocates from Pittsburgh who embody the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Giddings, Paula, In Search of Sisterhood, W. Morrow, 1988.
When and Where I Enter, W. Morrow, 1984.
Salem, Dorothy C., editor, African American Women, Garland, 1993.
Zangrando, Robert L., The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, Temple University Press, 1980.
Pittsburgh Courier, March 20, 1965, p. 1.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 2, 1998, p. A10.
Pennsylvania Heritage, Summer 1983, p. 9-12.
—Paula Pyzik Scott
March 10, 1965
The date and place of birth of Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin, a civil rights leader, are not certain. Some records list her as being born in March 1884 in the District of Columbia (the stepdaughter of John and Rosa Temple), while others list her as born on August 9, 1888, in Reading, Pennsylvania, to George and Rosa Anne (Proctor) Adams. Records become more reliable for her late adolescent years: She finished high school in Reading, moved to Pittsburgh in 1909, and married William Lampkin in 1912.
Daisy Lampkin met Pittsburgh Courier publisher Robert L. Vann in 1913, after she had won a cash prize for selling the most copies of the newspaper; with the prize, she purchased stock in the Courier corporation. She continued to invest in the Courier corporation until 1929, when she began a lifelong tenure as the corporation's vice president.
In 1915 Lampkin became president of the Negro Women's Franchise League; that year, too, she became involved in the National Suffrage League and the women's division of the Republican Party. In July 1924, as president of the National Negro Republican Convention in Atlantic City, she helped pass a strong resolution against lynching. She also took part that year in a black delegation to the White House, led by James Weldon Johnson, to vindicate black soldiers involved in the Houston riot of 1917. She also became a delegate-at-large to the 1924 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1929 Walter White, acting executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had Lampkin appointed regional field secretary for the organization. She used her positions in the NAACP and the powerful Courier corporation to attract new funds and members to both organizations. In 1930 her grassroots political influence helped defeat Roscoe McCullough's reelection bid as senator from Ohio. McCullough had supported the nomination of Judge John J. Parker (who had once opposed black suffrage) to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1935 Lampkin was named national field secretary of the NAACP, a post she held until 1947. In this capacity she displayed great skill at raising funds while keeping operating expenses to a minimum. She and White campaigned strongly, although unsuccessfully, for the passage of the 1935 Costigan-Wagner federal antilynching bill. During Franklin Roosevelt's administration, she encouraged blacks to change their voting preferences from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. However, she supported the Democrats selectively. Under Roosevelt, she supported the party despite the NAACP directives against partisan activity; under Truman, she cited those same directives as a reason to withhold her official support.
Although physical fatigue forced her to resign as national field secretary in 1947, Lampkin continued her fund-raising activities as a member of the NAACP board of directors. She continued to challenge any symbolic or substantive threats to African-American progress, but at the increasing cost of her physical stamina. She supported the Republicans in 1952 when the Democrats ran a segregationist vice presidential candidate, Alabama's John J. Sparkman. She also led a major fund-raising effort for the Delta Sigma Theta sorority's purchase of a $50,000 building that year.
Lampkin remained active in NAACP activities through the early 1960s, receiving the National Council of Negro Women's first Eleanor Roosevelt–Mary McLeod Bethune Award in December 1964. Lampkin died at her home in Pittsburgh in 1965. In 1983 she became the first black woman honored by the state of Pennsylvania with a historical marker, located at the site of her Webster Avenue home. In 1997 she was the recipient of the "Spirit of King" award, which honors civil rights advocates from Pittsburgh who embody the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. New York: Morrow, 1985.
Giddings, Paula. In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement. New York: Morrow, 1988.
McKenzie, Edna B. "Daisy Lampkin: A Life of Love and Service." Pennsylvania Heritage (Summer 1983): 9–12.
durahn taylor (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005