She Can Bring Us Home: Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Civil Rights Pioneer

She Can Bring Us Home: Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Civil Rights Pioneer

She Can Bring Us Home: Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Civil Rights Pioneer

She Can Bring Us Home: Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Civil Rights Pioneer


Long before it became the slogan of the presidential campaign for Barack Obama, Dorothy Ferebee (1898-1980) lived by the motto YES, WE CAN. An African American obstetrician and civil rights activist from Washington DC, she was descended from lawyers, journalists, politicians, and a judge. At a time when African Americans faced Jim Crow segregation, desperate poverty, and lynch mobs, she advised presidents on civil rights and assisted foreign governments on public health issues. Though articulate, visionary, talented, and skillful at managing her publicity, she was also tragically flawed.

Ferebee was president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha black service sorority and later became the president of the powerful National Council of Negro Women in the nascent civil rights era. She stood up to gun-toting plantation owners to bring health care to sharecroppers through her Mississippi Health Project during the Great Depression.

A household name in black America for forty years, Ferebee was also the media darling of the thriving black press. Ironically, her fame and relevance faded as African Americans achieved the political power for which she had fought. In She Can Bring Us Home, Diane Kiesel tells Ferebee's extraordinary story of struggle and personal sacrifice to a new generation.


Between 1977 and 1981 the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, recorded the memories of certain African American women, age seventy and older, which became known as the Black Women Oral History Project. Among the subjects was Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, who was interviewed at her home on December 28 and 31, 1979, by Merze Tate, a historian at Howard University. It was the most detailed interview she ever gave. the original tape is on file at Radcliffe, and copies of the official transcript of that interview are available at major research libraries around the country. the interviews were also published in book form in 1991.

I interviewed Ruth Edmonds Hill on August 2, 2011, who as Oral History coordinator for the library, supervised the Black Women Oral History Project. Ms. Hill said that each subject was given the opportunity once the interview was completed to review a transcript and make editorial changes. Unfortunately Dorothy was gravely ill when she granted the interview, and died before she was able to edit it. Therefore, the review and editing fell to her son, Dr. Claude Thurston Ferebee ii, who was suffering from cancer and died a year after his mother’s death, and to Dorothy’s daughter- in-law, Carol Ferebee. in addition, Dr. Tate did her own editing and revising of those portions of the interview she thought were inaccurate or needed further clarification. I have listened to the tape and reviewed the edited transcript. the taped interview is rambling and repetitive. At times, Dorothy seemed confused about events in her life. Certain words and phrases have been changed in the official transcript, which is tighter and easier to understand than the original interview. the Schlesinger Library considers the edited transcript to be the official interview, and therefore, when I quote Dorothy . . .

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