Enolia P. McMillan, the first female president of the NAACP and a highly regarded figure in the civil rights movement, has died of natural causes, the Baltimore-based organization confirmed Wednesday. She was 102.
McMillan, an educator whose career spanned 42 years, died Tuesday at her home in Stevenson. She became a teacher in 1927 and crusaded for equal pay for black teachers and better schools for black students.
She helped to reactivate the city chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1935 and was active in the organization for more than 50 years. She played a key role in persuading the NAACP to move its national headquarters from New York to Baltimore in 1986.
Kweisi Mfume, former president and CEO of the NAACP and a close friend of the McMillan family, said she was a "pillar of the civil rights movement."
"She was very much the matriarch of the NAACP," Mfume told The (Baltimore) Sun. "She was a fighter who was relentless in pursuing justice."
Mfume credited McMillan and former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks with orchestrating the NAACP's move to Baltimore. While Hooks and others helped craft a financial package to initiate the move, it was McMillan whose on-the-ground efforts made it a reality, Mfume said.
"It was Mrs. McMillan who went out and sold pies and sold commemorative bricks and held raffles and cajoled the members of that board to think about finally owning a building of their own," he said.
The eldest of four children, she was born Oct. 20, 1904, in Willow Grove, Pa., to John Pettigen, who was born a slave in Virginia, and Elizabeth Fortune Pettigen, a domestic worker.
The family moved to Charles County and settled in Baltimore when she was about 8. The family attended Calvary Baptist Church on Garrison Boulevard in West Baltimore, where she, her mother and sister were active in the church's community programs.
In 1922, she graduated from Douglass High School in Baltimore.
Commuted five hours a day
She wanted to be a doctor — a pediatrician because she liked children — but heeding the realities of a black woman's opportunity in that day, she decided to become a teacher, said her eldest granddaughter, Tiffany Beth McMillan.
She spent five hours a day commuting from Baltimore to Washington by train to attend Howard University, where she received a bachelor's degree in education in 1927. She began her first teaching job at Denton High School in Caroline County. In 1928, she became a principal in Charles County.
In 1933, she earned her master's degree from Columbia University. Her thesis was "The Factors Affecting Secondary Education for Negroes in Maryland Counties."
NAACP Baltimore branch President Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, who referred to McMillan as "Mrs. Mac," had placed a framed photo of her above the archway of the building's main entrance as a reminder to members of her legacy.
"There has always been pictures of the presidents on the wall, but I just thought her photo belonged in the most important place in that building for everyone who left that building to remember Mrs. Mac," he said Tuesday. "She was remarkably strong."