Her Legacy: Emma Ford , (1863-1937) Civil Rights Activist

by The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council | photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library

well-known community organizer who challenged Jim Crow laws and protested discrimination in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Emma S. Warren Ford was an outspoken advocate for both women’s and civil rights. Well respected, she was a force with which to be reckoned. This early trailblazer used her voice and influence to set an example for others to fight for the rights of all.

Emma Ford began her work in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). At the 1892 WCTU state convention in Benton Harbor, she was appointed superintendent of the “Work Among Colored People” and coordinated activities with national leader Lucy Thurman. Mrs. Ford became a popular speaker and writer who traveled the state advocating for African Americans and women while protesting against the negative images used against them in the media. Her husband, Joseph C. Ford, supported her work. When he was vice president of the Equal Rights League for Kent County,  the organization adopted a resolution in support of the women’s
suffrage movement.

In 1894 Mrs. Ford was a founding member of the Married Ladies Nineteenth Century Club. Hosting meetings and leading activities for the first literary and social club for African American women in Grand Rapids, she promoted their uplift at the same time she led them into the newspapers to protest injustice with a united voice.

As president of the Phyllis Wheatley Club in 1907, Mrs. Ford published an article in the Grand Rapids Herald protesting prejudicial practices in a local theater: “We the Phyllis Wheatley circle protest against this discrimination and that we be [accorded] the rights of all citizens which is given by the laws of Michigan.”

In 1913 Emma Ford was chosen by Governor Woodbridge Ferris to represent the state of Michigan at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in New York.


The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council is dedicated to educating the community and celebrating the legacies of local women, preserving knowledge of their past and inspiring visions for their future. For more information or to get involved, visit ggrwhc.org 

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