Crystal Bird Fauset was a public speaker, organizer, civil rights activist, presidential advisor and the first African-American woman elected to a state legislature.
Sources differ on Crystal Bird’s birthdate. Some suggest June 27, 1893, others June 27, 1894 and another October 15, 1894. Bird was born in Princess Anne, Maryland. Her father died when she was four and her mother died when Bird was seven. She left Maryland to live with her aunt in Boston. In Boston, Bird went to public schools and graduated in 1914. After graduating, Bird taught in Boston and New York for three years before leaving teaching to take a position as the first African-American field secretary of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). In this role, Bird traveled extensively, focused on increasing resources for and participation from young Black women. In this capacity, she started chapters of the Girls Reserve, supported the inauguration of many new recreation centers for African-American women and facilitated increased employment for African-American women. Bird worked for the YMCA from 1918-1926.
From 1927-28, Bird worked at the American Friends Service Committee as a public speaker and advocate. In that year with AFS, Bird made 210 public appearances speaking before 41,000 people.
Around this time, Bird enrolled at Columbia University, graduating with a BS and a Masters of Education from Columbia’s renowned Teachers College in 1931. That same year, she married Arthur Huff Faucet. The two collaborated on several political projects and campaigns throughout their marriage.
In the years after returning to Philadelphia, Bird Faucet continued her work with the AFS committee, serving as Executive Secretary of the Committee’s Institute on Race Relations at Swarthmore College from 1933-35. She also increased her political activity and became an advocate for long-needed housing reform for Black residents in the city. In 1935, she work as the Assistant Personnel Director in the Philadelphia Office of the Works Progresss Administration and also as an advisor on the Federal Housing Advisory Board. In 1936, Bird Fauset began her work with the Democratic National Committee through which she initiated critical efforts to recruit Black women voters to greater political participation and political power. Parallel to this work, Fauset and her husband joined the newly formed, grassroots organization, the National Negro Congress (NNC), a more radical group working to political and economic power for the Black community. Through this nexus of radical and mainstream efforts, Fauset worked in Philadelphia for better housing and jobs for Black residents as well as to secure anti-lynching legislation and for stronger enforcement of the state’s 1935 Equal Rights Law.
Bird Fauset announced her candidacy for state legislature in Spring 1938. She ran on a campaign that promised support for affordable housing and fair employment legislation. Bird Fauset defeated her Republican challenger and also received more votes than any other democratic candidate in the city, becoming the first Black woman to be elected to a U.S. State Legislature.
Bird Fauset resigned from her position after only a year in order to continue her work in the national political arena. Officially serving as the Assistant Director of the Education-Recreation Program, WPA, Pennsylvania, Bird Fauset also thres her organizing efforts into the 1940 Presidential Campaign continuing her fierce efforts to organize Black women voters and to increase their political power. In this work, Fuaset ran into difficulties with Eleanor Roosevelt which scholar John Thomas McGuire attributes to a complex “labyrinth of race” maintained by the National Democratic Party in the decade between 1934-44. Fauset perceived that Roosevelt and others in the party pulled back on organizing amongst the Black community so as not to anger white racist Democrats in the south.
Despite these conflicts, Bird Fauset continued making strides in the party and in 1941 was appointed Advisor on Race Relations in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Office of Civilian Defense.
Bird Fauset broke with the Democratic Party and with the Roosevelts in 1944, officially endorsing the presidential campaign of Republican Thomas E. Dewey.
Bird Fauset continued her advocacy after WWII, founding the United Nations Countil in Philadelphia and, in the 1950s, traveling extensively to support various independence movements around the world.
Crystal Bird Fauset died in March 27, 1965, a few months before the passage of the Voting Rights Act.