Inspired by the accomplishments of the legendary Black abolitionist and suffragist, Sojourner Truth, a group of black women gathered in 1964 to discuss a plan to create a space for Black women who were business professionals. In July of 1964, Daisy Murray, a nurse at the Oakland Veteran’s Hospital, asked Billye Dunlap, owner of Mademoiselle Coiffures to help her start the women’s organization. Murray and Dunlap then sought the help of Catherine Parish on how to form and run a nonprofit organization. Parish’s tutorship led to the founding of the East Bay Chapter of the Negro Business and Professional Women (BPW).
“In those days, black people had a hard time having anything. Many women strived to get into positions of leadership so that we could be recognized as strong women that knew how to lead,” Murray said.
Ellen Winborn proposed the development of a low-cost housing complex for senior citizens in 1971. The building was to be named Sojourner Truth, after the BPW’s national symbol.
Winborn along with former realtor and community activist, Viola “Vi” Taylor-Wims, led the effort to convince federal housing officials that the BPW had the capability to build and manage such an ambitious construction project.
Daisy Murray recalls the words Winborn used during one of the contentious meetings with the federal housing officials, saying, “We showed strength and solidarity as Black women to show HUD that we meant business.”
After three arduous years, BPW completed the Sojourner Truth Manor Retirement Homes development.
Daisy Murray is the sole surviving original member of the East Bay Area Club of Negro Business & Professional Women. “We considered ourselves as women who simply wanted to help people and, as Black women, to have something of our own,” said Murray.
“The Lord has blessed us to maintain those buildings for 37 years,” she said. Many of the women have passed or have fallen ill. Murray hopes to find young Black women with the same passion of the pioneering women of BPW to continue the tradition of Black women as leaders and managers.