May 10th in African American History – Helen Claytor

Helen Jackson ClaytorMay 10, 2005 Helen J. Claytor, the first black president of the YWCA national board, died.

Claytor was born in 1907 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She earned her bachelor’s degree cum laude in education from the University of Minnesota in 1928. She was also valedictorian of her class and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Despite her credentials, Claytor found that teaching jobs for blacks were nonexistent. She therefore took a job with the YWCA. In the 1940s, Claytor accepted the position of national secretary of interracial education.

She became part of a team that traveled to other YWCAs to study interracial practices. In 1943, Claytor moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and in 1949 became president of the local YWCA board, the first black YWCA president in the country. In 1967, she was elected president of the national YWCA board, again the first black to hold that position. In 1970, during the first YWCA national convention over which she presided, the justice and equality imperative was adopted and became a tenet of all YWCAs. This called for “the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.”

Claytor resigned from the national board in 1974 and went on to serve on the National Women’s Advisory Committee for Civil Rights and the National Office of Equal Opportunity. She received honorary doctorates from Eastern Michigan University in 1968 and Western Michigan University in 1972. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984.


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