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Sat, 11.18.1893

Bessye Bearden, Journalist born

Bessye Bearden

*The birth of Bessye Bearden is remembered on November 18, 1893.   She was a Black journalist and civic activist.  

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as Bessye Banks, she was the youngest child of George T. and Carrie O. Banks. She attended schools in North Carolina and Hartshorn Memorial College in Richmond, Virginia. She graduated from Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (now Virginia State University).  She subsequently did graduate work at the University of Western Pennsylvania and Columbia University.  

When she was 20, she married Richard Howard Bearden, with whom she had one son, Romare Bearden, born in Charlotte, North Carolina. The family moved to New York City in 1914, settling in Harlem.  Their home was a meeting place for intellectuals and artists, including such musicians as Duke Ellington and Thomas "Fats" Waller.   In 1927, for several years, she served as a New Yorker magazine correspondent for the Chicago Defender and did freelance writing for other publications. She was the first woman to become a member of a local New York City school board, being elected in 1922 to local School Board No. 15, where she served until 1939.  

She was also involved in a variety of civic activities. She belonged to several organizations, including the New York Urban League, where she was secretary of the executive board, the Council of Negro Women, where she served as treasurer; and the executive boards of the Harlem Community Council and the Colored Women's Democratic League, of which she was the first president. On June 11, 1935, she was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue for the State of New York.  

Bessye Johnson Bearden died in Harlem Hospital, aged 52, on September 16, 1943, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.  

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