Mama Charlotte Maxeke’s life and 151st birthday are honored in today’s Doodle, which was created by South African artist Pola Maneli. She was a scholar, an evangelist, and a torchbearer for Black South African women’s rights. She was widely recognized as the “Mother of Black Freedom” in South Africa.
Charlotte Manye Maxeke was born in the little hamlet of Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa in 1871. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a preacher, and she soon found herself following in their footsteps.
Maxeke was invited to perform with the African Jubilee Choir to tour the United Kingdom and the United States at the age of 20. The choir’s trip in the United States was cut short, but Maxeke opted to stay behind because she had her heart set on studying in America.
She graduated from Wilberforce University with a bachelor’s degree in 1903, making her the first Black South African woman to do so, as well as the first with a university degree from America. Maxeke excelled in a variety of subjects in school and was lectured by W.E.B. DuBois, a prominent Pan-Africanist scholar.
Maxeke lived in Johannesburg after returning to South Africa and became involved in the country’s political and social rights organisations. In 1912, she was present in the founding of the South African Native National Congress (SANCC) in Bloemfontein. Maxeke helped lead the anti-dompas movement in 1913 as an outspoken opponent of the dompas, a pass that governed and limited the freedom of Black South Africans (particularly women). In 1918, she also created the SANCC’s Bantu Women’s League.
Charlotte Maxeke continued to be a devoted leader and campaigner for women’s rights for the next 25 years. She collaborated with people from many walks of life and was known for being “everyone’s friend and no one’s enemy.”
Happy birthday, Charlotte Maxeke!