Dr. Mary Taylor Christian was born on August 9, 1924 in Hampton, Virginia. In 1941 she earned her high school diploma from Phenix High School in Hampton where she was a member of the National Honor Society, basketball, drama and debate teams. While working in the laundry at Hampton University she began taking typing courses and eventually landed a secretarial job at the University. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1955. From 1955 until 1960 she worked as a teacher at Hampton city schools. During the summers she attended Columbia University, where she earned her Master’s degree in Speech and Drama in 1960. In 1968 she earned her PhD from Michigan State University while working as a professor at Hampton University. In 1968 she helped organize a voter registration drive at Hampton which resulted in more than a thousand people registering to vote through the Community Progress Committee. She resided in the historic Old Northhampton Community with her husband and family. She as an active member in the historic First Baptist Church of Hampton.
In 1980 she was named the Dean of Hampton's school of education. Christian was the first African American woman to serve on the Hampton City School Board. She worked as a campaign manager for four political candidates and in 1985 decided to take the plunge into politics herself. In 1986 she was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and became the first African American since Reconstruction to represent the state's 92nd district, the city of Hampton. Dr. Christian served seven terms in the Virginia General Assembly where she championed legislation on education, healthcare and prescription drugs. Christian was among three African Americans appointed to the powerful House Appropriations Committee. She also served on the Education and Rules Committees.
Dr. Christian, affectionately known by her thousands of students as "Dr. C" was professor emeritus at Hampton University. She departed this life on November 11, 2019, at the age of 95.
Given her significant contribution to the city of Hampton, there is a bronze statute of her on the campus of her alma mater, Hampton University. The auditorium at the Virginia Peninsula Community College (formerly Thomas Nelson Community College) is named in her honor. To commemorate her legacy, the city of Hampton honored her by naming a school the "Mary T. Christian Elementary School."
The Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation mourns the passing of Dr. Mary Robinson Taylor Christian
On November 11, 2019, political and community icon, Dr. Mary Robinson Taylor Christian was called home from labor to reward. A native of Hampton, Virginia, she was born into the fellowship of First Baptist Church, one of the Contraband churches founded by newly freedpeople in 1863. After finishing the historic Phenix High School, she married and had two children.
She began her distinguished academic career at Hampton Institute (now University). Dr. Christian helped form the Community Progress Community, a leading voter activist organization. As a school teacher, she taught hundreds of children in the city, and earned the distinction of becoming the first African American woman elected to the School Board. (She followed William Mason Cooper, who was the first African American elected to the Board.) At Hampton University, she served as Director and rose to the position of Dean of the School of Education in 1980, before retiring as Professor Emeritus.
As a political activist, she worked on many political campaigns, serving as campaign manager on four political campaigns because deciding to enter politics herself. In 1985, Dr. Christian was the first African American and first female from Hampton to be elected to the state legislature, post Reconstruction. She went on to serve nine consecutive terms representing Virginia’s 92 House District.
In the 1990s, Dr. Christian galvanized community momentum through her preservation efforts of historic African American cemeteries. This effort continues today and is one of the flagship goals of the Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation, which she founded in 2013. Dr. Christian envisioned the Foundation’s work to not only renovate the historic Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs Headquarters , but to maintain preservation efforts of historic cemeteries and purchase cemetery signage. She envisioned the headquarters as a place of youth mentoring development and a space for community meetings. Dr. Christian also had plans to develop new initiatives at the site of the historic Virginia School for Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled. This work will continue.
Please pray for her husband and family. Pause as you read this press release for such an icon who gave her all, to all who would receive her goodness.