Ora E. Brown Stokes
(1882-1957) Chesterfield County, Virginia
Ora Brown Stokes, an African American woman, and daughter of Olivia and James E. Brown, a Baptist minister, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia. She was a trained teacher by profession and a well-known community activist and suffragist. Stokes attended a segregated public school in Fredericksburg where she developed her passion for education. She graduated from high school at age 13 and went on to Virginia Normal and Collegiate institute (now Virginia State University) to obtain her teaching degree. In record of her consistently brilliant school records, Ora received numerous prizes and medals for her academic success.
After graduating in 1900 and earning her teaching certificate, Stokes taught for two years in Milford, Caroline County. On September 9th, 1902, Stokes got married in Washington to William Hebert Stokes, Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Richmond. She furthered her education to obtain a B.L. degree from the law department of Virginia Union University in June 1930 after studying economics and social services in the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. Ora truly had a passion for learning and education.
Based on her educational background, Stokes truly understood the importance of women’s voting rights and its ability to make for social change. Shortly after the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920 allowing women to vote, Ora and her friend Maggie L. Walker led a voter registration drive for African American women in Richmond. Stokes, who had witnessed the decline in voting rights for African American women through segregation and suppression efforts, came out with a plan.
She presented a petition to the city registrar to give her fellow women a chance to cast their vote, which was later denied. On the last day of registration, an electoral board officer told Stokes that not many black women will show up. In response to the officer, Stokes replied “There's more to come. I've got them lined up in Jackson Ward waiting for the word. They are ready to come when I call them.” Stokes had put together a phone system to alert the women in Jackson Ward to go to city hall the moment she alerted them.
With her persistence and perseverance, Stokes was among the 2,410 African American women that were able to register on September 9th to cast their vote. From then, Stokes held several leadership roles in both local and national social programs. Her zeal and commitment to helping improve the lives of the people of her race and gender stood apart from others. On March 5th, 1948 Stokes married John Edward Perry, a physician, after the death of her late husband on July 20th, 1936. She passed away on December 19th, 1957, and was buried in Highland city in Kansas City, Missouri.
Why I Chose This Person
"I am Richard Arthur Quansah and I chose Ora E. Brown Stokes because I was inspired by her persistence and perseverance to attain a higher education during a time of racism and segregation to increase her knowledge and build herself in order to be in a position to fight and be a voice for her fellow African American women with such bravery and commitment."
"There's more to come. I've got them lined up in Jackson Ward waiting for the word."
Bonis, Ray. Biographical Sketch of Ora E. Brown Stokes. Alexandria: Alexander Street, 2020. Women and Social Movements in the United States,1600-2000 database. Alexander Street.
Ora Brown Stokes,” Virginia Changemakers, accessed August 25, 2020, available here